Working with Play

Penn State Brandywine student Lauren Lomas takes her learning experience to a whole new level through a research study on the impact of technology on child cognitive development.

"We're looking at two questions," Jennifer Zosh, associate professor at Penn State Brandywine, explains about the project on which she and Human Development and Family Studies major Lauren Lomas are working.

"How does the parent-child interaction change when playing with one type of toy versus another, and does the type of toy children play with impact their ability to regulate their own behavior."

During the research study, Lomas video records parents and children playing with traditional toys, such as building blocks, or electronic toys, like an iPad.

She then goes back and watches the sessions to determine whether the type of toy the parent and child play with impacts the parent-child interaction.

In the second part of the study, Lomas places a snack in front of the child and offers the choice to either eat the snack now, or wait for several minutes and, in return, be rewarded with two snacks.

The team then examines whether the type of toy children played with impacts their later ability to regulate their own behavior and wait for the second snack.

"I feel that this research really gave me an opportunity to personalize my academic experience."—Lauren Lomas

"This research is really meeting a need that we're seeing," Zosh says. "Technology changes quickly but research hasn't quite caught up yet. We don't know exactly how technology use impacts children." 

Lomas adds, "The goal of this research is to inform the community and parents on how technology might be impacting parent-child relationships and children in general." 

Lomas and Zosh conduct their research study at Penn State Brandywine's Child Development Lab, the Middletown Free Library in Media, and the Delaware Children's Museum in Wilmington, Delaware. 

"Seeing Lauren grow as a researcher and a scholar has been a tremendous experience."—Associate Professor Jennifer Zosh

A senior Schreyer Honors Scholar, Lomas became one of only eight Penn State students from across the Commonwealth selected to showcase research in Harrisburg at the thirteenth annual Undergraduate Research at the Capitol - Pennsylvania conference. 

She becomes only the fifth Penn State Brandywine student selected for this significant honor in the campus' history. 

"Seeing Lauren grow as a researcher and a scholar has been a tremendous experience," Zosh says. "A smaller campus like Brandywine can more easily afford students the opportunity for this type of growth." 

And of Zosh, Lomas says, "Dr. Zosh has been a huge mentor throughout every step of the research process. I can't imagine going through this project without the help and support from my entire Penn State Brandywine family." 

Lauren Lomas with her research poster

Lauren Lomas presents her research

Lauren Lomas presented her research at Brandywine's annual spring undergraduate research showcase, where she was presented the Social Science and Humanities Research Award.

Image: Mike McDade

Lomas also presented her work at Brandywine's annual spring undergraduate research showcase, the Exhibition of Undergraduate Research Enterprise and Creative Accomplishment.

In addition, she took home the Social Science and Humanities Research Award, which recognizes a social science and humanities project that holds importance in the field of study and has a potential impact on the public. 

"Research gets students more actively engaged in their educational experience as an undergrad," Lomas says. "I feel that this research really gave me an opportunity to personalize my academic experience." 

About Penn State Brandywine

Penn State Brandywine is located just twenty miles west of Philadelphia and enrolls 1,500 full- and part-time students. The campus offers twelve undergraduate majors or the option to start any of Penn State's more than 160 majors and finish at another campus. In addition, the campus offers internships, undergraduate research opportunities, international study programs, and varsity sports.