Visual environment, attention allocation, and learning in young children: when too much of a good thing may be bad

Psychol Sci. 2014 Jul;25(7):1362-70. doi: 10.1177/0956797614533801. Epub 2014 May 21.


A large body of evidence supports the importance of focused attention for encoding and task performance. Yet young children with immature regulation of focused attention are often placed in elementary-school classrooms containing many displays that are not relevant to ongoing instruction. We investigated whether such displays can affect children's ability to maintain focused attention during instruction and to learn the lesson content. We placed kindergarten children in a laboratory classroom for six introductory science lessons, and we experimentally manipulated the visual environment in the classroom. Children were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed.

Keywords: attention; cognitive development; educational psychology; learning; open data; self-control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Schools
  • Self-Control / psychology*