Mount A stu­dent stud­ies em­pa­thy, ex­ec­u­tive func­tion in preschool­ers

Truro Daily News - - COLCHESTER COUNTY - SPE­CIAL TO THE TRURO NEWS Cour­tesy of Mount Al­li­son Univer­sity, Sackville, N.B.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Clare Maguire has spent her sum­mer in preschool.

Maguire, a fourth-year Mount Al­li­son Univer­sity honours psy­chol­ogy stu­dent from Truro, is study­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween em­pa­thy and ex­ec­u­tive func­tion in preschool­ers for her honours the­sis.

“Em­pa­thy is to un­der­stand what oth­ers are feel­ing and re­act to it and feel it your­self,” she ex­plains. “Ex­ec­u­tive func­tion is a term for the en­sem­ble of pro­cesses that gov­ern and reg­u­late your thoughts, ac­tions, and be­hav­iours – sel­f­reg­u­la­tion skills that can in­volve in­tu­ition and im­pulse con­trol as well as ac­ti­vat­ing and in­hibit­ing be­hav­iours.”

Maguire’s work, which is su­per­vised by Nancy Garon, is sup­ported by an in­de­pen­dent sum­mer re­search grant and gives her a head start on her the­sis.

Over the sum­mer, Maguire be­gan a back­ground lit­er­a­ture re­view, prac­tised the tasks in the preschools, and did a bit of writ­ing.

“I have also be­gun data col­lec­tion and have trav­elled to a num­ber of schools in Monc­ton and Riverview.”

Maguire says psy­chol­ogy is a rel­a­tively young science and there is not a lot of ex­ist­ing re­search on the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween em­pa­thy and ex­ec­u­tive func­tion in young chil­dren. Com­pli­cat­ing the work is the fact there are many mod­els to il­lus­trate em­pa­thy.

“It is nice to have the sum­mer to look at the dif­fer­ent mod­els and col­lect my thoughts,” she says.

Maguire’s re­search in­volves work­ing with preschool­ers in lo­cal day cares, hav­ing them do spe­cific tasks that are pre­sented as games, but that help re­searchers bet­ter un­der­stand their thought pro­cesses.

“Prob­a­bly the best task that uses em­pa­thy and ex­ec­u­tive func­tion is we have a baby doll and we will ask them to take care of it and feed it, but then the baby doll will start to cry,” she ex­plains, adding the chil­dren need to burp the baby to get it to stop cry­ing. “It is an em­pa­thy plus ex­ec­u­tive func­tion task – you need to keep a hold of your own emo­tions and the fact that you are up­set­ting the baby by burp­ing them be­cause that is best for them. I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to see­ing how dif­fer­ent kids ap­proach this.”

Out­side aca­demics, Maguire is pas­sion­ate about mu­sic. She has been the co-pro­ducer of Con­duct Be­com­ing – an an­nual al­bum fea­tur­ing Mount Al­li­son stu­dents that raises money for can­cer re­search – for two years and the man­ager for one. She also codi­rects the Acapella Club and is a mem­ber of the El­liott Cho­rale.

Maguire plans to con­tinue her stud­ies af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Mount Al­li­son and is cur­rently look­ing at both grad­u­ate and speech pathol­ogy pro­grams.


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