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Heavily Decorated Classrooms can be Distracting, Study finds

Update Date: May 27, 2014 10:05 AM EDT

Teachers often decorate classroom walls with students' projects and other educational material. Even though the presence of these items, such as maps and artwork, can make the room look better, a new study out of Carnegie Mellon University discovered that rooms with too many decorations could end up being distracting for young students.

"Young children spend a lot of time - usually the whole day - in the same classroom, and we have shown that a classroom's visual environment can affect how much children learn," said Anna V. Fisher, lead author and associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In this study, Fisher, who worked with Karrie E. Godwin and Howard Seltman, analyzed 24 students from kindergarten. The students were put into classrooms where they learned about six new science topics that they did not know anything about beforehand. Three of the classes took place in a heavily decorated classroom and the other three classes took place in a sparse classroom.

The researchers tested the children on what they learned and found a relatively large difference between the children's scores. The children who sat in the sparse room got 55 percent of the test questions correct where as the children from the other group only got 42 percent of the questions correct.

"We do not suggest by any means that this is the answer to all educational problems. Furthermore, additional research is needed to know what effect the classroom visual environment has on children's attention and learning in real classrooms," Fisher said in the press release. "Therefore, I would suggest that instead of removing all decorations, teachers should consider whether some of their visual displays may be distracting to young children. "

The study, "Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad," was published in Psychological Science.

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