July 6, 2014

Play, research come together at Fort Worth museum

The museum offers a good setting to study youngsters and adults, a UNT researcher says.

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Youngsters visiting the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History are helping researchers from the University of North Texas investigate questions about the brain and body.

How does background music affect a child’s homework? Does taking a photograph strengthen the ability to recall an item? Can playing video games benefit a child’s physical and mental well-being?

Researchers with UNT are gathering data to answer those questions in the museum’s Research and Learning Center on the first floor, which opened in January.

Lin Lin, associate professor of learning technologies at UNT’s College of Information, said the setting is perfect for research.

“At the museum, people are having fun, they are not pressured to come,” Lin said.

The University of Texas at Arlington and the museum joined to create the center, which opened in January.

It is modeled after Boston’s Living Laboratory, with partners that include the Museum of Science, Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University.

In Fort Worth, students and researchers from UTA and other universities can apply to use the center to gather data for investigations that touch on the brain and learning. The UNT researchers are among those given space on Saturdays to enlist the help of youngsters visiting the museum.

Visitors can participate in 15-minute sessions. UNT has five research projects underway that rely on museum data collection, Lin said.

One is trying to determine how background sounds affect focus.

Children and adults are asked to do simple math problems with several background sounds, including silence, rain, Cuban music or Chopin piano music. Lin said she thought people would prefer silence or rain, but discovered otherwise.

“They actually find the rain the most annoying,” Lin said. “That was really surprising to me.”

Visitors can participate in the listening environments study Saturday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. In the afternoon, they can participate in a study that examines whether playing video games can benefit a child’s physical and cognitive well-being.

Lin said researchers measure a child’s weight, height and skin fold, which helps estimate body fat. Parents fill out surveys about their children. Then, children are asked to play video games such as Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution.

Other research work includes a study looking at whether people are more productive when they perform a single task or several at one time.

“The research is showing that people are more productive when they do one thing at a time,” she said.

Another study looks at whether people remember items better when they photograph them.

Lin said families are asked to look at items in the museum and take pictures of some but not others.

Early findings show that subjects actually remember objects better when they do not take a photograph.

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