Children who concentrate and switch attention better are more likely to cross streets safely

September 16, 2001

Training to boost these attentional skills may transfer to real-world pedestrian skills

WASHINGTON -- How can we help kids cross streets more safely? Improving their abilities to concentrate and switch their attention may be part of the answer. British psychologists studied these two central attentional skills in children ages four to 10 in relation to how safely they crossed the street. The results suggest that children who can concentrate and switch their attention better may cross more safely.

The psychologists explain, "If a child approaches the road talking to a friend, they both need to switch their attention away from the conversation and toward the road situation. Conversely, once their attention is focused on the road it is important that they are not distracted by further conversation." The findings appear in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

George Dunbar, Ph.D., of the University of Warwick; Ros Hill, Ph.D., of Aston University; and Vicky Lewis, Ph.D., of The Open University used a computer game to gauge the "attention switching" skills of 101 children. In this game, children pressed either a green or a red key, depending on whether they thought a frog was hiding in a given spot. As the frog kept switching, researchers tallied the time it took the children to keep up. The researchers also assessed the concentration of a representative subset of 35 children, by asking them to pick one of six images on a computer screen to match a target image -- despite the serious distraction of a cartoon video that started before children finished the task. The researchers also observed how much distraction slowed the childrens' responses, and they measured impulsivity by which children rushed to respond, with many errors.

Then, to see how well these lab measures correlated with real-world behavior, Dunbar et al. covertly videotaped those 35 children crossing streets on the University of Warwick campus (with their parents, the safest method). They tallied how safely the children crossed by checking whether they walked or ran, held their parent's hands, stopped at the curb, looked for traffic, stepped out into traffic before their parents, and so on.

Attentional skills significantly correlated with pedestrian behavior, in different ways. Children who were better at switching attention on the Frog Game were more likely to look at traffic when about to cross a road. Children who were less able to concentrate in the lab when challenged by a distraction also tended to be more impulsive; children rated as more impulsive tended to cross the road in a less controlled way.

The biggest improvements seemed to come between the group of four-five year olds and the group of five-six year olds, the difference between preschool and kindergarten age. Finally, concentration, but not switching, correlated with impulsivity, suggesting that these two skills (concentration and attention switching) represent distinct aspects of attention.

The authors point out that if children's attentional skills for computer games correlate with real-world safety behavior, as they did in this study, then training children with computer games specifically to concentrate and switch attention better may well transfer to the real world and make them safer pedestrians. However, the authors caution parents that it's part but not all of the puzzle.

"Your child can appear to be safe, without being safe," says Dunbar, "by having some skills and getting by. Others, by actively managing their own risk, provide a safety margin. The judgement of what your child is ready for has to be an ongoing and gradual process, in which you monitor and reinforce their skills. They're only safe when they can, and will, do what needs to be done to control the risk of an accident." He cites as two of the greatest risks: crossing roads with peers, without supervision ("they may know what they should do, but their motivational focus is elsewhere"), and when they begin walking alone after dark.
Article: "Children's Attentional Skills and Road Behavior," George Dunbar, University of Warwick; Ros Hill, Aston University; Vicky Lewis, The Open University; Journal of Experimental Psychology - Applied, Vol 7. No.3

George Dunbar can be reached by email at His telephone number is: 011 + 44 (0)24 7652 3727.

(Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and after September 12 at )

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 divisions of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to