The Little Lovely, (age 11m 2 weeks) acted as a baby research participant again.
I wrote a few months ago about how we took part in some psychological research (i’m an infant scientist) at the Birkbeck BabyLab and Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. LL took part in a study that was looking at which parts of the brain were responsible for understanding others’ beliefs. He wore some fancy headgear which I assume was supposed to detect which areas of the brain become activated and “light up”, when looking at some video clips during the study.
Well, we got a call asking if we would like to take part in another project. LL seemed to like it the first time so we went back. This was a different study and the headgear was slightly different. Fortunately, Mr Bear was on hand to model the new “hat” and tell us all about it and whether LL would like to wear it himself (pics left, and below)
What is this EEG hat thing?
The information sheet from the baby lab says that our brain cells communicate with each other using faint electric signals. We can “eavesdrop” on the communication by placing an array of sensors on the head that can pick up the natural activity of the person’s brain (EEG, electroencephalogram). The netted “hat” used (as shown on Mr Bear below, and later pictures by LL) is specifically designed for babies and can help researchers achieve a detailed “map” of the working brain. It’s safe and only monitors brain activity, a bit like a thermometer, it only measures what’s going on – it can take your temperature but can’t change it at all.
The study: We’re ready to learn!
The researcher put the EEG net on LL, while another one distracted him with some toys. He didn’t seem to mind it at all and was not in any distress or discomfort. We then went into a room with a television screen. LL sat in a high chair and watched video clips of two women pointing to an object and naming it. One woman always named a familiar object correctly, the other incorrectly. Then, LL saw videos of only one of the women naming novel objects.
What was the aim of the study? The aim was to help us understand more about how infants prepare themselves to learn new information, and will enable further research into how infants seek information and how expectancy of information affects learning.
The idea behind the study was, as adults we learn best when we are interested in what we are learning. When we know we are about to be taught something we prepare so that we can process and remember as much as possible. This “readiness to learn” can be reflected in brain states, the intensity of which can be used to predict how well the information will be learned. This study was looking at these brain states reflecting “readiness to learn”.
When LL watched the video, the lab was observing his eye movement using an eyetracker and brain activation using the EEG.
The eye movement findings will help to establish whether infants preferred the informing or mis-informing woman in the videos. With the EEG – if infants learn to expect reliable information from one of the women, and not the other, we should see increased activation when the informing adult is present compared to when the mis-informing adult is present.
Again, we got to contribute to a study that will tell us more about infant brain development and behaviour, and it was a fun afternoon out for us. The place was very baby friendly, and set up for us, of course.
And after all his hard work, LL got to have a nice play with some toys, oh and another free T-shirt! Then, he was quite tired and so had a nice sleep on the way home.