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Translating the  Scientific  Knowledge  of  Early   Child  Development

The FrameWorks Institute Susan Nall Bales, President ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Examples of our Work • Harvard Center on the Developing Child – how to translate the science of child development • National Research Council – how to talk about fiscal policy; how to talk about skills and learning

• MacArthur Foundation – how talk about digital media and learning • National Science Foundation/Union of Concerned Scientists/Suzuki Foundation – how to get people to understand climate change, ocean acifidification and implications in the US and Canada, training zoo and aquarium interpreters to engage ordinary citizens

• W. K. Kellogg Foundation – how to talk about rural issues, race, food and public policy • Alberta Family Wellness Initiative – how to translate the science of addiction for clinicians, policy makers and program administrators in Canada

• American Public Health Association – how to unify the field of environmental health around a set of core concepts and translate this work for the public and policy makers

FrameWorks Areas of Expertise Psychology/ Anthropology


The mission of the FrameWorks Institute is to advance the nonprofit sector's communications capacity by Political Science identifying, translating and modeling relevant scholarly research for framing the public aboutMedia social Graduate Interns discourse Digital problems. and Production




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Lost in Translation



General)) Public)


From birth to age 5, children rapidly develop foundational capabilities on which subsequent development builds.



General)) Public)


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So here we have boiled down a message into a simple statement. And here’s what it evokes... The expert wanted to talk about the intertwined nature of social, emotional and cognitive competencies and what did they elicit? Back to the basics, the three Rs and other developmentally inappropriate ways of thinking about how very young children develop.

The growth of selfregulation is a cornerstone of early childhood development that cuts across all domains of behavior.



General)) Public)


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And here the expert wanted to talk about executive function and the importance of developing skills that allow children to focus and to delay gratification, skills that can be learned and at a very young age ...and what did they elicit? A much different way of thinking about discipline,

Correct their Mistakes People misremembered the myths as true. Got worse over time. Both older and younger readers made mistakes. Attributed false information to the CDC.

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So what are experts taught to do to address these miscommunications? We often try to correct people’s mistakes by exposing their wrong thinking. Myths and facts sheets are one way we do this. But they don’t work they way we think they should, as researchers have exhibited. Because our minds don’t work literally. Instead, we re-mind people of what they thought to be true initially, and then come behind it with some exotic and unfamiliar contesting information. What do you think people remember?

Argue the Facts THE BACKFIRE EFFECT! Education Experts

It’s not true that kids will catch up! One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

Public and Policymakers This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper. Keohane, J. (2010.) How Facts Backfire: Researchers Discover a Surprising Threat to Democracy - Our Brains.

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Not this...

But more like this...

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If we take this approach, we fundamentally alter the way we think about what it is we do when we do communications. We reject this deficit model in which we are filling the empty vessel with new information, in favor of a more nuanced and strategic view of communications. It’s not an empty mind that confronts us. it’s a swamp.

“People approach the world not as naïve, blank-slate receptacles who take in stimuli …in some independent and objective way, but rather as experienced and sophisticated veterans of perception who have stored their prior experiences as an organized mass. This prior experience then takes the form of expectations about the world, and in the vast majority of cases, the world, being a systematic place, confirms these expectations, saving the individual the trouble of figuring things out anew all the time.” -- Deborah Tannen, Framing in Discourse. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ©2012 All Rights

You are dealing instead with people’s priors...their stored ways of looking at the world which have now become so entrenched, so chronically accessible that they serve as useful ways of filtering out disconsonant information. We see what we expect to see, as scholars from Walter Lippmann to Deborah Tannen have observed. We are veterans of perception, who constantly see the world through the pictures in our heads. And these misperceptions take their toll on our ability to discern viable policy options. That is, when modelling the world badly, we misunderstand what would remedy the situation.

Values Derailed by Cognitive Failures “If American environmental values are so pervasive and strong, why is there not more environmental action?”

“The cultural models available to understand global warming lead to ineffective personal actions and support for ineffective policies, regardless of the level of personal commitment to environmental problems.” --Kempton, Boster & Hartley, Environmental Values

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As many scholars have noted, the way people have learned to model their world -- particularly about very abstract concepts like the environment, education, child development -- lead them to adopt ineffective policies and even to trump their own good intentions and inclinations. So one can say that communications is about helping people rethink these misdirections.

Changed Public Discourse [“Stress]is an important factor to consider in development” Info with frames [Reframed]

Swamp of Cultural Models 2

Y Early 1 Experiences Stress Does Have The Body X Long-Term 3 Effects Good

“Bad stuff that happens early Kidscan need stress! derail development” Why limit it?


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So how can we reconceptualize what communications is good for, what it needs to do to change the climate of public thinking. Here is the way we think about a more realistic theory of change that takes into account that swamp of public thinking.

Cultural Models and Expert Interviews

A Multi-Method Approach to Communications Research

(Psych Anthro) N=20-30 and N=10-20

Cognitive Media Analysis

(Media Studies, Mass Com, Psych Anthro) N=500

Field Frame Analysis

Reframing Strategy


N=300 from 20 orgs

Explanatory Metaphor Research

Peer Discourse Sessions (Sociology)


(Psych Anthro, Cog Linguistics)

Values Experiments

On-the-Street Interviews N=48

Experimental Testing N=2,000

Persistence Trials

(Political Science, Political Psychology)


N=2,000-8,000 Š2012 All Rights Reserved

So how do we achieve this theory of change? We believe it is by using the best methods from across the social and cognitive sciences to both describe the way people think and to experiment with ways to help them think better. We begin with the expert story, we figure out why it isn’t happening naturally, we create frame elements that plug those translational holes and we end up with a translated story that really is a story.

Stickiness is an Empirical Pursuit g your ess for makin c ro p d o o g “So, a r is: d the ideas stickie essage -- fin m l a tr n e c e 1.Identify th ive core; counter-intuit is t a h w t u o ’t it 2.Figure e -- why isn g a s s e m e th about aturally? way happening n message in a r u o y te a ic n sing 3.Commu ience’s gues d u a r u o y s k that brea machines; achines have m g in s s e u g ines.” 4.Once their e their mach n fi re m e th failed, help to Stick. n Heath, Made . Chip and Da om House. 2007 New York: Rand

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Let’s make this simple. We like this formula from the Heath Brothers. But we believe the process of identifying messages that stick is an empirical one -- that’s why we do extensive research to inform each step of this process. I’m going to organize the rest of my talk today around these stages of message development and to inform my recommendations from the FrameWorks research. First, we’ll look at what happens even when experts are very clear about their messages. Then we’re going to take a tour of the swamp of cultural models in mind that you will encounter as you try to take this communications deliverable into public discourse. And we are going to speculate together on why it isn’t happening naturally -- what’s getting in the way. Finally, we are going to explore some framing tools that have been shown to break people’s guessing machines and then we’ll look at how you can embed these into your messaging in such a way that you help people exercise mental muscles that they didn’t know they had, to get you a better hearing for the common core standards.

A Science (Story) of Early Childhood Development 1. Brains are built over time. 2. Experiences and personal interactions supply the conditions that guide how the brain develops. 3. Genes are turned on and off by environmental influences. 4. Skills are built on top of other skills, with each iteration affecting successive stages of development. 5. Chronic stress early in life damages the young brain, with potential lifelong consequences. 6. Windows of opportunity open and close, making development easy during sensitive periods and harder at later points in time. 7. While brain plasticity continues throughout life, its capacity to change diminishes with age. --Shonkoff, J. and S. N. Bales. (2011). Science Does Not Speak for Itself: Translating Child Development Research for the Public and Its Policymakers. Child Development, In press. ©2012 All Rights Reserved

What the Public Sees Successful Child

Fate Free Will Parents Genes


Culture Environment

Unsuccessful Child

Very Complicated Something about the brain Only for scientists “Everything matters”

Self-Made Child

Development is automatic Discipline Stress is good for you We turned out okay

Early Ed

Hurried child Fancy parents Flash cards in cribs

What’s in the swamp of...

Early child Development Safety

Community = predator Control and contain

Family Bubble

Bad parents Mama knows best Kids are a private concern


Children are the future Begins in school

Framing Elements That Break Guessing Machines VALUES, or goals to re-mind people of what’s at stake or what they already care about that an issue connects to METAPHORS, to place issues in people’s everyday action scenario, enhance their understanding of processes and mechanisms and increase agency NARRATIVE, to override people’s default patterns of expectation about a complex, abstract issue by substituting the expectations of a well known narrative structure

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These are the building blocks of FrameWorks’ reframing research. And it is these missing elements that can help you take what is a very good draft of a message on common core standards and make it more powerful by overcoming the predictable push back that arises from the swamp. Let’s start with values....we’ve conducted 4 values tests to date...with more than 15K understand what values set up better policy thinking.

Values: enduring beliefs, which orient individuals’ attitudes and behavior (perceptual lenses)

Shared Fate/ Common Good



Values are  orien,ng  beliefs I  think  about  them  as  orienta,onal  lens  that  we  can  adopt  in  thinking  about  an  issue Par,cularly  in  answering  the  “why  does  this  ma<er”  and  “what  is  this  about”  ques,ons.   --a value is…an orienting belief about the way that things could or should work. They provide the orientation for how people think about issues and why something matters. "enduring  beliefs  that  a  specific  mode  of  conduct  is  personally  or  socially  preferable  to  an  opposite  or  converse  mode  of  conduct  or   end-­‐state  of  existence"  (Rokeach  1973,  p.  5) Put  yet  another  way,  “values  are  core  beliefs  that  serve  as  standards  we  use  to  judge  our  own  behavior  and  are  also  a  basis  for   organizing  our  poli,cal  views  and  posi,ons  on  public  policies  (Jennings  1991).”  

A Values Experiment Dependent Variables=CMH Policies Analysis


4,200 on-line participants

Treatment Groups

Random assignment to a treatment group

Outcome •!Mental health and substance abuse services should be available and Measures affordable for all parents, caregivers and children who need them. • Victims of child abuse should receive priority in the allocation of Diffs btwn 1.Future Support mental health funds so that appropriate treatment can be given to treatment and 2.Prosperity for Policy control groups prevent the cycle from continuing when they reach adulthood. 3.Ingenuity Batteries for • Sufficient numbers expertise in 4.Responsive Managerof well-trained •ECC professionals with(controlling demographic mental health services should •be recruited, trained and licensed to 5.Vulnerable Child CMH variability) serve the Society documented needs of families 6.Healthy Child Abusewith young children. • 7.Control • Early care and education professionals •Health should be required to receive •Poverty training in mental health screening to aid in their early detection of mental health concerns in young children. • Culturally and linguistically appropriate screening services for early detection of mental health concerns in young children and their families should be available to all who need them.

Value: Prosperity The future prosperity of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. When a society invests wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship.

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Why Values Matter 0.2

Policy Support

Policy Areas Mental Health Child Abuse Health/Nutrition Early Child Care








Resp. Management


Vulnerable Child

Value: Prosperity

Judy Cameron, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child Š2012 All Rights Reserved

A Metaphorical Translation Device: The Explanatory Metaphor Makes something that is hard to understand easier to understand, by comparing it to something concrete and familiar.

≈ Infant-Caregiver Interplay

Serve & Return

--Here, for example, we’re calling this translational device a simplifying model. A simplifying model takes advantage of similarities between two things and gets people to apply what they know about one thing, to something that they don’t understand as well or are unfamiliar with. But it’s not just for poetic understanding. It’s to truly get people to be more knowledgeable about an issue. And so we don’t just pull these out of thin air. Rather we rigorously test them. --So, let me give you an example. One of the gaps that we sought to fill was that people in the US didn’t have much of an understanding of the critical importance for brain development of direct human interactions with young babies. PLAY --So we’ve developed and tested the analogy comparing infant-caregiver interplay that is such an important part of positive development to the give-and-take of serve and return in many net-games -- just as the game itself depends on that back-and-forth, so too a child’s brain development depends on that serve and return process. -so these metaphors succeed by drawing attention to similarities between the hard-to-think thing and that easier-to-think thing. --It’s important to note that the SM isn’t itself the message, but is part of a larger frame. When it works, a SM serves to orient and channel thinking in a particular direction, the ingredients of which are already there to be worked with. And the critical features of a successful SM are listed here.

Simplifying Model: Brain Architecture The early years of life matter because early experiences aďŹ&#x20AC;ect the architecture of the brain. As it emerges, the quality of that architecture establishes either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the development and behavior that follows -- and getting things right the first time is easier than trying to fix them later.

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Simplifying Model: Brain Architecture

Megan Gunnar, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child Š2012 All Rights Reserved

Fate Free Will Parents Genes

Fill in Black Box and Define the Outcome as Public Prosperous Society

Brain Architecture Serve & Return Toxic Stress

Successful Child

Unsuccessful Child

Culture Environment

Dysfunctional Society

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A Translated Core Story of ECD A my Story of Child Mental Health Why are other people’s children concern? How does it work? Prosperity

Environment of Experiences Serve and Return

What actually develops? Brain Architecture Air Traffic Control

Signature Effect

Levelness What Can Be Done? Evaluation Science

What Disrupts Development? Effectiveness Factors Toxic Stress


Simplifying Model: Brain Architecture

Just the Facts Whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s at stake?

Maternal depression is a common phenomenon; indeed, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of women experience depressive disorders during their lifetime, and mothers How does it work? are at elevated risk for depression during and after pregnancy (Mian, 2005). Rates of depression are even higher for mothers with previous histories of depression or those experiencing other stressors such as financial hardship or social isolation (Miller, 2002). Maternal Depression Can Undermine the Development of Young Children. Working Paper #8 - FIRST DRAFT

What can be done?

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Just the Facts

What promotes development?

Recognizing that it has potentially far-reaching harmful effects on families, clinicians and policy makers have made preventing and treating maternal depression a goal; however, efforts to do so have been diverse in design and varied in their success. To better understand the challenges and promise of such programs for improving the well-being of young children, in this brief we review evaluations of interventions designed to prevent or treat maternal depression.

What disrupts development?

Maternal Depression Can Undermine the Development of Young Children. Working Paper #8 - FIRST DRAFT Š2012 All Rights Reserved

Reframing the Science Draft

How does it work?

Healthy development depends on the interactive influences of genes and experiences, which shape the architecture of the developing brain. The active What ingredient of those experiences can be described as develops? mutual responsiveness or the “serve and return” of young children’s interactions with adult caregivers. For example, when an infant babbles and an adult responds appropriately with attention, gestures or speech, this builds and strengthens connections in What promotes the child’s brain that support the development of development? communication and social skills. Maternal Depression Can Undermine the Development of Young Children. Working Paper #8 - FINAL DRAFT ©2012 All Rights Reserved

Reframing the Science Draft When caregivers are sensitive and responsive to a young child’s signals, they provide an environment rich in How Serve and Return experiences, like a does it work? good game of tennis or ping-pong. However, if depression interferes with the caregiver’s ability to regularly provide such experiences, these What disrupts connections in the child’s brain may development? not form as they should. Maternal Depression Can Undermine the Development of Young Children. Working Paper #8 - FINAL DRAFT ©2012 All Rights Reserved

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--So these recommendations are useless sitting on a desk or shelf somewhere, the utility and power of these empirical recommendations come to life when they are wielded by those who are communicating about the issue in question. --In this case the recommendations found their way immediately into an important science for policy working paper that center on the developing published on EF.

What you do matters [Congressional Bills 112th Congress] [From the U.S. Government Printing Office] [S. 3436 Introduced in Senate (IS)] 112th CONGRESS 2d Session S. 3436 To amend the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 to improve the quality of infant and toddler care.


IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES July 25, 2012 Mr. Franken (for himself, Mrs. Murray, and Mr. Sanders) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions _______________________________________________________________________ A BILL

To amend the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990 to improve the quality of infant and toddler care.

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What you do matters (a) Findings.--Congress finds the following: (1) The brain undergoes its most dramatic development during a child's first 3 years of life, with 700 new neurological connections being formed every second based on early experience. During this time, the brain's foundational capacities for thinking, language, emotion, and self-regulation are formed. (2) Economic deprivation can also affect the development of the brain and impair all aspects of development. Children in families below the poverty line are at risk for prolonged ``toxic'' stress, which can change the shape of the brain's structure. Twenty-five percent of children younger than 3 years of age live in families with incomes below the poverty level.

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Core FrameWorks Principles If good policy depends on good information, it requires recognition of the dual aspects of social issues: social analysis and communications analysis. There is a science of cognition - how people think and process information - which can inform the framing of social issues. The framing of social issues requires an empirical approach.

Š2012 All Rights Reserved Š 2012 FrameWorks Institute Slides in this presentation were developed by the FrameWorks Institute for individual use and cannot be represented, adapted or distributed without the express written permission of the Institute. All images in this presentation are licensed for the purpose of this presentation only and may not be reproduced elsewhere.

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Translating the Scientific Knowledge of Early Child Development  

Translating the Scientific Knowledge of Early Child Development

Translating the Scientific Knowledge of Early Child Development  

Translating the Scientific Knowledge of Early Child Development