The Science Behind The Games

Pictoo’s NameGames: Description and Rationale
Jordan P. Lippman, PhD., Reality S. Canty, MS.,
Principal Scientists and Founders, NameGames, LLC.

This document includes a high-level description of Pictoo’s NameGames and a research-based justification for important design decisions.

  1. Pictoo’s NameGames helps children develop important relationships and achieve Learning Goals.

Pictoo’s NameGames is designed to teach children the names and faces of the important people in their lives by engaging them in developmentally appropriate activities and joint attention exchanges.   Playing Pictoo’s NameGames helps young children develop important perceptual-motor, cognitive, and social-communicative skills that are aligned with Early Learning Standards from across the country.

Recognizing friends and relatives at an early age fosters positive interactions between a child and the significant people in his or her life, making the child feel like a valued member of the family (Byng-Hall, 2004). These positive interactions are the seeds of strong, meaningful relationships (Lewis, 2005) which lead to many positive outcomes for children, such as buffering them from developing emotional and behavioral problems (Silverstein & Ruiz, 2006; Tanskanen & Danielsbacka, 2012; Yorgason et al., 2011), enhancing social skills (Barnett et al., 2010), and increasing the likelihood of educational success (Jæger, 2012).

  1. By playing Pictoo’s NameGames, infants as young as 8-months gain experience with facial processing and recognition.

Early experiences with objects and people in Pictoo’s NameGames can have a lasting beneficial impact on a child’s cognitive processes (e.g., Bornstein & Mash, 2010; Kovack-Lesh et al., 2012).

Research suggests that by playing Pictoo’s Namegames, infants gain experience processing and recognizing faces.  By the age of 8-months, children are able to remember individuals they encounter (Meltzoff & Moore, 1994) and demonstrate more efficient processing of familiar faces (Pascalis et al., 2011).

Playing NameGames helps toddlers learn the names of unfamiliar people and objects. The ability to learn the names of unfamiliar objects advances dramatically at 12-months when toddlers are able to learn arbitrary word-object pairings (Schafer & Plunkett, 1988; Werker, et al., 1998). After nine exposures in a five-minute training session, 13-month-old toddlers can learn the names of new objects (Woodward, Markman, & Fitzsimmons, 1994). By 18-months, toddlers learn object names after just three presentations of name-object pairings (Houston-Price et al., 2005). Therefore, by playing Pictoo’s NameGames, children can recognize friends and relatives if they receive enough exposures to the name-face pairings.

  1. Pictoo’s NameGames is designed to help children reach important learning goals.

Pictoo’s NameGames is comprised of two engaging learning games that are governed by separate rules and different learning goals.

Bouncing Faces – Bounce around with your family, pop the floating bubbles and make some new friends along the way. Tap the background to bring up new faces, tap the images to hear their names or give them a flick to send them flying around the screen! This fun, interactive game familiarizes children as young as 8 months with their loved ones while enriching their understanding of cause-effect relationships and refining hand-eye coordination.

Where Am I? – Go on a colorful adventure with Pictoo and help him get home by learning the names and faces of family and friends. Tap on the correct picture to get a big celebration and move Pictoo closer to home. Earn the ‘I Know’ bow with three consecutive correct responses for a person on the final scene. This fun, interactive game familiarizes children as young as 8 months with their loved ones while refining hand-eye coordination and enriching their understanding of cause-effect relationships.

Before the child begins to play, Bios are created for the important people in the child’s life. Each Bio consists of at least one photo, a written and recorded name, and information about the frequency of interaction and relationship between the person and the child.

According to prior research, young children process the faces of familiar people more efficiently (Pascalis et al., 2011). Therefore, the app initially emphasizes the four Bios most familiar to the child based on their frequency of interaction. The strategy of initially emphasizing familiar Bios minimizes cognitive load (c.f., Mayer & Moreno, 2003) by leveraging the child’s knowledge of familiar people and allowing him or her to discover how to play the game without simultaneously learning new people or objects.

New, less familiar Bios are subsequently emphasized once the more familiar Bios have been learned. This ensures that the child is continuously challenged. Optimal learning happens in games where the level of difficulty is just beyond the player’s skill level (c.f., Green & Bavelier, 2006).

In Pictoo’s NameGames, faces and objects are always moving slightly during gameplay to create an optimal learning environment. Prior research suggests that motion is instrumental in developing early facial recognition skills and learning of word-object pairings. In infants as young as 3-months, recognition is improved when faces are in motion (Otsuka et al., 2009; Sinha et al., 2006). At 14-months, infants can learn new word-object pairings with minimal exposure, but only if the object is moving (Werker et al., 1998).

  1. Pictoo’s NameGames provides the context for shared gameplay and learning.

The app provides the backdrop for children to engage in rewarding learning experiences with the important people in their lives. Adults are in a unique position to adapt learning situations to make them appropriate for children. At approximately nine-months, infants can learn from ‘shared attention exchanges’ as a consequence of their newly-acquired ability to jointly attend to an activity (Striano & Reid, 2006). Children learn more from gameplay when a caregiver is able to provide encouragement, model correct behavior, redirect attention (Deak´ et al., 2008), and discuss prior experiences with the pictured family members (Edwards & Middleton, 1988).   Simultaneously, the caregiver learns new things about the capabilities of the child such as the ability to control hand movements and recognize people.

The Learn More button in the Play menu provides additional suggestions regarding how to maximize learning for the child, such as:

  • Help guide the child by pointing to the Bio or demonstrating a correct response
  • Strengthen relationship and memory skills by sharing stories about the person in the photo
  1. Pictoo’s NameGames is designed to be developmentally appropriate.

Pictoo’s NamesGames was created to accommodate children at various states of developmental readiness. The app maximizes learning with developmentally appropriate activities that are customized for each child (Copple & Breadekamp, 2006; Charlesworth, 1998; Ramey & Ramey, 1998).

More specifically, in Pictoo’s NameGames, the adaptive game engine selects an appropriate level for initial gameplay based on the age of the child.

  • Infants younger than 12-months begin on a level with the largest targets and no distractors to practice controlling the fine muscle movements of fingers.
  • Toddlers between 12 and 24-months begin on a level with medium-sized targets and one distractor to practice categorization and continue to refine fine motor control.
  • Toddlers older than 24-months begin on a level with smaller targets, a busier background, and multiple distractors to practice more complex categorization.

During gameplay, the adaptive engine adjusts the level of difficulty based on the a child’s accuracy. If the child touches the target before touching a distractor, then the child advances to the next level. If the child touches a distractor before the target then the child is sent to a lower level. After each incorrect response, one of three levels of corrective feedback is triggered to help the child find the target. The sequence of increasingly more corrective feedback is an adaptive scaffold that has been shown to aid learning in video game environments (Sun, Wang, & Chan, 2011; Mayer & Johnson, 2010; Moreno & mayer, 2000; 2004; Nelson, 2007).

All of the learning goals are aligned with Early Learning Standards from across the country and are structured to be applicable to children at various levels of cognitive development. Thus, Pictoo’s NameGames was designed to be flexible enough to allow children of different ages to have challenging and rewarding experiences given the appropriate level of parental