The brain benefits of your child's dinosaur obsession

Story highlights

  • Researchers don't know exactly what sparks "intense interests"
  • Vehicles and dinosaurs are the most common of kids' obsessions
  • Studies show that intense interests make better learners and smarter kids

Susan Alloway's daughter Erin was very specific about her Halloween costume. It couldn't be just any dinosaur: Erin, 6, wanted to be an Ozraptor.

For the record, an Ozraptor is an abelisauroid theropod dinosaur that lived in modern-day Australia during the Middle Jurassic period.
It's also definitely not something a mom can buy off the rack at Party City.
    "I Googled it, and there's nothing," Alloway says. "There's like two pictures of an Ozraptor. But she said it had to have real feathers, so I used a bajillion feathers, and nobody knew what she was, but she didn't care."
    Erin's devotion to dinosaurs started just after she turned 4. Alloway doesn't remember what sparked it, but today her daughter's favorite place is the large dinosaur section in their local public library: "She loves that it feels never-ending," Alloway says. "There's so much information, and she loves the long names of the dinosaurs and learning about the different prehistoric periods. It's like she can't stop learning it all, and there's always more for her to learn."
    She's in good company. As a near-universal rule, kids love dinosaurs -- if you weren't obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid, you almost definitely know someone who was.
    These kids can rattle off the scientific names of dozens, if not hundreds, of dinosaurs. They can tell you what these creatures ate, what they looked like, and where they lived. They know the difference between the Mesozoic and Cretaceous periods.
    The level of dinosaur expertise a kid can have is seriously astounding, particularly when you consider that the average adult can name maybe ten dinosaurs at best.
    Scientists call obsessions like Erin's an "intense interest." Researchers don't know exactly what sparks them -- the majority of parents can't pinpoint the moment or event that kicked off their kids' interest -- but almost a third of all children have one at some point, typically between the ages of 2 and 6 (though for some the interest lasts further into childhood).
    And while studies have shown that the most common intense interest is vehicles -- planes, trains, and cars -- the next most popular, by a wide margin, is dinosaurs.
    It's not generation-specific, either. Land of the Lost may have inspired dino-fever in Generation X, and '90s kids can trace it back to Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time, but an obsession with all things dinosaur is no less prevalent today than it was when you were a kid.
    The only difference is in the numbers: In 2016 alone there were more than 30 new dinosaurs discovered, bringing the list of potential favorites to more than 700.
    Paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara was a young boy with an intense interest in dinosaurs that never faded. In 2005, he discovered a giant plant-eating dinosaur in southern Patagonia. He named the beast, which stood more than two stories tall and weighed more than a Boeing 737, Dreadnoughtus.
    Lacovara is currently the director of Rowan University's Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park, and visiting parents co