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How to play with a newborn baby (0-3 months) – what and why – psychology and research


What, how and why to play with your newborn. Really interesting psychology behind newborn play and what's important
As I approach the 5th month with the new baby (already!) I was looking back and thinking of the ways that we “played”. There’s a lot of time in the day so how can you play with baby and what can you do all day long? Well, apart from nappy changes, sleeps, screams, baths and other practical “stuff”, here’s some ways we played together and some of the psychology/research behind activity ideas:

 

SOUND – COMMUNE

Talking:

Face to Face time is a GREAT way to play. This means simply being face to face with baby and having a chat. You can talk about anything; something that you did that day or just make certain sounds with some over the top mouth-moving to show how you’re making it, like B-B-B-B-B-B, OOoooo.

 

→ → → Talk in a funny voice!

Talking is important but it’s a case of Quality, not Quantity

Talking in “parentese” – that baby talk that we do, characterised by higher pitch, slowed down and exaggerated intonation (6) – might irritate some but apparently it has it’s benefits; slowing speech down and exaggerating sounds, also introducing that “sing song” element to the voice is something babies like. It works well with very young babies according to this article who report that prevalence of baby talk with children (in one to one conversations rather than in groups) was linked to better language development,

The more parents exaggerated vowels – for example “How are youuuuu?” – and raised the pitch of their voices, the more the 1-year olds babbled, which is a forerunner of word production.

 

When the babies were 2 years old, parents filled out a questionnaire measuring how many words their children knew. Infants who had heard more baby talk knew more words

Singing:

Again, communication is paramount so singing counts too. Apparently, from day one babies have an ability (innate) to discriminate rhythmic patterns. See this interesting article from Psychology Today for more but in sum, you can start in utero – around 25 weeks of pregnancy the baby starts to process auditory signals – which is why newborns may prefer their mother’s voice, because it is quite familiar to them!

 

Reading:

Reading from birth is a great thing to practice, and has benefits. See my reading page for more in-depth information on the psychology of reading with babies and small children. In brief, baby will recognise their mother’s voice from the womb (1) and hearing it from day one may be familiar and comforting to them, reassuring them of your presence (2).
When we read we usually read with different expression and voices than when we talk and books/reading materials contain different vocabularies, words, expressions than what we might use in every day talk around our children. This is useful because it exposes the child to more varied language and sounds.
Reading to babies from the early months has been found (3) to be related to increased reading with babies at 8 months old (creating a reading habit), which in turn, related to language abilities at 12 and 16 months, particularly with expressive language (being able to put thoughts into words and sentences).
Interaction when reading has also been highlighted as an important element in relation to language development (4) with older babies (12 months).

 

TOUCH

The importance of touch: how what and why to play with newborn 0-3 months

Touching feet

Touching hands, touching feet – we did a lot of this in month one, mainly because his little feet were so cute. The baby and I are due to take part in a research study soon at a Baby Lab about whether infants in the early months can distinguish between a social touch and other touch. This will involve monitoring activity and touching baby’s arm with a toothbrush and then touching by hand.
Skin to skin is recommended and touch is going to be important! Research has reported increased touch to facilitate growth and development (cited in 5). Research on benefits of touch with premature babies has also influenced procedures in some hospitals such as use of “kangaroo care” where the baby receives skin to skin contact being held upright against the bare chest of the carrier (5). There is a huge wealth of literature out there about importance of touch and skin to skin with babies and infants which I encourage you to read further if this is an area of interest to you.

 

Sensory play

We also did lots of sensory play such as touching soft toys, a range of textured material and letting him touch/kick his little feet on some crunchy sounding tissue paper.Sensory play idea for newborn and 0-3 months - kicking tissue paper. The psychology of newborn play

 

SIGHT

  • Mirroring, including mirroring noises and chatting, having a conversation

  • Face time

  • Tongue talk

  • Copy Cats

How, what and why play with your newborn: stick your tongue out at them! Baby-Brain.co.uk

Nurrr

We spent a lot of time sticking our tongues out at each other! Given baby’s limited communication channels, this was something he was able to do and I sat there and “Mirrored” him, i.e. copying what he was doing and sticking my tongue out in response to him. This then turned into a kind of “conversation” where we would take it it turns. I then threw a few more facial expressions in and tongue clicks which seemed to interest him. This early study (6) writes that babies between 12-21 days old are able to imitate facial gestures, so you can try it from the first few weeks! Also loving the pictures in that article of the baby imitating “mouth opening” and especially the “lip protrusion”.

 

High contrast:

High contrast black & white images with baby - what how why play with newborns and 0-3 months

In terms of visual aspects and development, the visual system is not yet fully developed at birth (a). Baby has difficulty distinguishing between similar colours such as orange and red and so prefer high contrast colours such as black against white. We used several “high contrast” images and resources such as a black and white book and flash cards.

 

 

Let’s Face It

Face time your baby! The importance of talking with newborns and psychology of interaction

Who’s there?

Babies love looking at faces; even in the days after birth a baby will prefer to look at images of a face compared to other images. YOU are their favourite play thing and baby will be very interested in staring at you whilst you sing/talk/coocheecoo at them.

YOU are your baby’s favourite play thing!

Mirroring and attachment:

Here’s a good video about “marked mirroring” with your baby. The page has described it nicely so I’ll just quote here:

Facial expressions that help a baby to know his feelings are understood are known as ‘mirroring’. Mirroring is said to be ‘marked’ when the parent mirrors the emotion then quickly ‘marks’ the interaction with a reassuring expression. Mirroring shows the baby that he is understood and reflects the feeling he is experiencing.

 

The’marking’ helps the baby know the feeling belongs to him and that the parent understands but is not overwhelmed and is therefore able to help him or her to manage such feelings.

(Warwick Medical School, 2014, http://www.your-baby.org.uk/early-interactions/marked-mirroring-showing-they-understand-their-babys-emotions).

 

Home activities: Tummy Time, Mirror Play, Play Gym

Mirror play with baby: What why and how to play with newborn and 0-3 months

Who’s looking at you, kid?

Tummy Time, play in the mirror and play gym were some fun and easy activities we tried at home. See links for more information on these activities. Play gyms for example have some great cognitive, visual perception, grasping and reaching skills, gross motor skills, self-awareness and sensory stimulation benefits as summarized in this nice article here by Mama OT. Personally, I could really see the baby developing in terms of gross motor skills, coordination and crossing his midline to reach out and grasp at toys.

 

Getting out and about

At first I remember it seeming very daunting and difficult on a practical level to get out of the house. Add two kids to the mix and there seemed like even more obstacles and things “to do” before we could get out the front door. However, there are many benefits and aspects for parent and child including social and mental health elements. Here’s a page about choosing activities and benefits of them for maternal mental health.

 

Lastly: Enjoy this time with baby!

Kicking tissue paper fun! Sensory activity with newborn baby and 0-3 months. Baby-Brain.co.uk

Wheee!

 

 

References:

  1. Decasper AJ, Fifer WP. Of human bonding: newborns prefer their mothers’ voice. Science. 1980;208:1174 –1176.
  2. Lariviere & Rennick (2011). Parent picture-book reading to infants in the neonatal intensive care unit as an intervention supporting parent-infant interaction and later book reading. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 32 (2),  pp 146-152.
  3. Karras, J. & Braungart-Rieker, J. (2005). Effects of shared parent-infant book reading on early language acquisition. Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 133-148.
  4. Julie Gros-Louis, Meredith J. West, Andrew P. King. The Influence of Interactive Context on Prelinguistic Vocalizations and Maternal Responses. Language Learning and Development, 2016; DOI:10.1080/15475441.2015.1053563
  5. Ardiel, E. L., & Rankin, C. H. (2010). The importance of touch in development. Paediatr Child Health. 2010 Mar; 15(3): 153–156.
  6. Ramírez-Esparza, N., García-Sierra, A., & Kuhl, P. K. (2014). Look who’s talking: speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development. Developmental Science, 17 (6): 880–891

a) Brémond-Gignac D., Copin H., Lapillonne A., Milazzo S. (2011). Visual development in infants: physiological and pathological mechanismsCurr. Opin. Ophthalmol. 22, S1–S8.

 

Newborn eye tracking/following object and visual development

Newborn visual development - how eye tracking develops in the early weeks. Baby-Brain.co.ukBaby eye tracking at nearly 8 weeks – My baby’s brain is developing!…

Here’s a video of the baby tracking an object at nearly 8 weeks old (video on facebook) 
Notice how much smoother it is than a previous video I took aged 5 weeks (also on facebook). His eye movements are less jerky and smoother; this occurs around 6-8 weeks of age and develops further over the coming months.

 

“Visual development progresses rapidly immediately after birth and continues to be fast during the infant’s first year of life…
…In particular, the capability to detect motion direction and to smoothly track moving objects is considered as an important part of the attention mechanisms. Smooth eye-tracking movements are essential for focusing gaze on moving objects. In the newborn infant, eye tracking is mostly saccadic [jerky] but at 6–8 weeks of age, the capacity to track objects begins to develop and smooth pursuit reach a level almost equal to that of an adult at about 4–5 months of age in term infants. The development results in precise smooth pursuit that predictively stays on the moving object…
For development of smooth pursuit, it is necessary that the functioning of the human medial temporal complex area in the cerebral cortex has developed“. (1)

 

(1) Strand-Brodd et al. (2011) – Development of smooth pursuit eye movements in very preterm infants. Acta Paediatr. 2011 Jul; 100(7): 983–991.

 

Update on our week and development at 13 months – talking, walking, accents

We are into the 13th month. What has the Little Lovely (LL) been doing?

 

update at 13 months - now we are walking. baby-brain.co.uk. Psychology, babies, motherhood, blog

Baby Feet

He started walking about a month ago, with his hand being held and then independently. Before he turned 1 we saw maybe 1 little step a couple of times. Then a few weeks later a definite series of 3 steps or so, which turned into more steps and then he just decided he would walk. I wonder if it was a confidence thing because he could walk with two or one hand being held but wasn’t able to do it alone. Now he is walking quite a bit, not very fast and with a slightly awkward gait and leg position, bit like a cowboy but he is probably walking more than crawling to get places he wants to go.
He also decided to dive head first onto the floor few days ago. Not from very high but resulted in a slight bruise. We called the NHS helpline on “111” (when you need help and advice but it’s not an emergency) and they were semi-helpful, if not a bit “automated”. I think the 111 number involves call centre staff who go through a series of prescribed questions with you over the phone, but they might not necessarily be highly medically trained. Anyway, he’s all ok but was an unpleasant experience.

 

We are also talking more and he has added more words to his vocabulary. There is a lot of gobbledegook but no string of real words yet, or even two real words linked together, only single words. His favourite word at the moment is “bath”. “Bus” comes second. He can also say toes, and point to them, and this morning was able to repeat “Kirk”, and “Spock” when watching Star Trek. He has a strange, possibly twang of northern accent for some reason (we don’t have one), for example, he says “baath” (rather than barth), “turrs” (rather than toes), “turst” (toast) and “shurrs” (shoes), that I can think of off the top of my head.

 

Which makes me wonder, do babies speak with an accent?

Well, we don’t have this odd northern accent so i’m not sure where he gets it from, I think it’s just the way he is able to pronounce certain syllables at the moment and possibly about the maturity of his palate as he is still quite young. Once things flow a bit smoother verbally maybe it will change. Looking into this a bit more, however, this article from the BBC writes about research that looked at “cry melodies” in newborns and found “clear differences in the shape of the infants’ cry melodies that corresponded to their mother tongue”. Further:

Babies begin to pick up the nuances of their parents’ accents while still in the womb

The reason for this?

 

They say the babies are probably trying to form a bond with their mothers by imitating them… “Newborns are highly motivated to imitate their mother’s behaviour in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding”…

 

…This is really interesting because it suggests that they are producing sounds they have heard in the womb and that means learning and that it is not an innate behaviour.

Interesting. Also, they suggest the “cry melodies” were shaped because “melody contour” might be the only aspect of the mother’s speech that a newborn is able to imitate at their stage (as vocal control does not develop until later).

 

Older babies at one year also “acquire the specific accented sounds of their parents and…the first year of listening makes a lasting impact on the way we speak for our entire lives”, according to research by Professor Patricia Kuhl, as discussed briefly here.

 

Babies and infants then do pick up on accents and nuances of their parent’s pronunciations. But, we might have to wait a bit longer to see what kind of accent LL develops.

Music and child development


How does music benefit children? What is the psychological research?

 

Music and child development. A clinical psychologist discusses: How does music benefit babies, infants and children? What is the psychological research. Baby-brain.co.uk

What are the benefits of babies and children playing music?

  • Social Development: music classes and playing music with babies and young children is going to involve a parent and probably other children too. The social elements of this (for parents too) are important. Also, turn taking, expression through a medium other than speech, and just having fun are going to be important elements. See the research below for findings that support the importance of interactive music making with baby.
  • Physical Development: playing an instrument requires good motor skills, both gross and fine. Baby bashing on a drum or shaking a rattle is an example of gross skills and more fine skills might come with pressing a key on a keyboard, or accurately hitting a note on a xylophone. Playing an instrument might also improve control and coordination skills in older children (see research below).
  • Psychological Development and Awareness:
    Cause and effect is a good one. Baby can learn that if they do one action (e.g. shake their hand up and down while holding a rattle) they have some effect (a noise) on their environment.
    Creativity
    Awareness of self and expression – I can make this noise, and express myself through it (especially as infants can not yet verbally communicate through speech).
– Encourages self-discipline, listening and concentration skills (see more about this from the research discussed below)

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INTERACTIVE music making is important:

Research as summarized here with very young children has found that:
One-year-old babies who participate in interactive music classes with their parents smile more, communicate better and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.

 

The infant brain might be particularly plastic with regard to musical exposure

The children in this study attended weekly music classes over 6 months. One class involved interactive music making and learning lullabies, songs with actions and nursery rhymes. Parents and babies worked together to learn to play percussion instruments, take turns and sing specific songs.
Another class involved parents and babies playing at various toy stations with recordings in the background.

Babies from the interactive classes showed better early communication skills, like pointing at objects that are out of reach, or waving goodbye. Socially, these babies also smiled more, were easier to soothe, and showed less distress when things were unfamiliar or didn’t go their way.

 

Babies who participated in the interactive music classes with their parentspreferred to listen to a version of a piano piece that stayed in key, versus a version that included out-of-key notes. Even their brains responded to music differently… [they] showed larger and/or earlier brain responses to musical tones.”

 

While both class types included listening to music and all the infants heard a similar amount of music at home, a big difference between the classes was the interactive exposure to music.

** Therefore, the interactive nature of the music classes appeared to be important, rather than passively listening to music in the background or playing with minimal interaction between parent and child.**

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Does playing music “IMPROVE YOUR KID’S BRAIN”?

I came across this interesting article (original journal article here): Could Playing Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and Other Music Improve Kids’ Brains? – Good question? What did the research find?  The main summary of the findings was:

Musical training might…help kids focus their attention, control their emotions and diminish their anxiety.

They looked at children aged 6 to 18 years old, and associations between playing a musical instrument and brain development. They used a measure of “cortical thickness”, and write that as children age, the cortex (outer layer of the brain) changes in thickness. The researchers wanted to see what impact music training would have in the cortex. Interestingly, they found that:

Music playing altered the motor areas of the brain, because the activity requires control and coordination of movement.

 

 

Music practice influenced thickness in the part of the cortex that relates to “executive functioning, including working memory, attentional control, as well as organization and planning for the future”

What are the possible social applications of this?
  • Apparently, 3/4 of high school students in the US never or rarely take lessons in arts or music. Therefore, the authors suggest that it is important to find new and innovative ways to make music training more widely available to young people, and to start this during childhood.

 

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Playing music therefore appears to have an impact on skills and abilities such as attention, working memory, attention. What about just listening to music?
My Little Lovely (LL) and I attended a class called tiny Mozart when he was about 6 months old. It was ok. It involved listening to stories played out with musical accompaniment (It wasn’t particularly interactive between the parent and baby, though). So did it do his development any good?

 

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Music & child development. The benefits, psychological research & how to use music with babies, toddlers, children. Baby-brain.co.ukWhat are the benefits of babies and children Listening to music?

  • The Mozart Effect – listening to classical music enhances intelligence? The “Mozart Effect” is probably a well known term by now. This became a popular saying in the mid-90s after a study (Rauscher & Shaw) reported that students who listened to 10 minutes of Mozart showed improvements on spatial tasks. The effect was brief, only lasting 10-15 minutes. There has been a lot of research around this and results on the impact on “intelligence” and IQ vary.  Later studies found only a minimal increase in IQ (1.5 points, this is really not very much) and limited improvements on tasks.
  • Listening to classical music for primary school children, though, has been shown to have some benefits. A project that introduced primary school children to classical music reported that “children listened to a range of music from a selection of well-known classical composers including Beethoven…Mozart…and Mendelssohn. The process of listening to live classical repertoire enabled children to enhance their listening skills and develop other skills needed for careful listening, including concentration and self-discipline.”
  • As this article here sums up, there is minimal evidence that listening to classical music increases IQ, so instead enjoy the research like the project above that shows children enjoy classical music and it can encourage listening and concentration skills

 

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How to use music with baby and toddlers

  • Interactive music making seems important. Learn to play an instrument together. I’m not talking about both taking up the guitar, I mean even something simple like shaking a maraca together. Take it in turns to make sounds. Respond to baby and mirror or echo their response. You could sing together too.
  • Singing is important for vocabulary development:Singing songs teaches children about how language is constructed. When you sing, words and phrases are slowed down and can be better understood by your baby. Singing regularly will help your baby to build up a vocabulary of sounds and words long before they can understand the meaning”, according to this article from the BBC.
  • More on singing to baby: this article outlines some of the findings. It cites that babies are particularly responsive when the music comes from the parent directly, and singing along with a parent can help develop awareness and skills in reciprocal communication. Music and rhyme in nursery rhymes can impact on ability in spatial reasoning, which the article writes can enhance mathematical and scientific abilities.
  • The article continues, in addition to singing nursery rhymes add songs with actions and encouraging dancing to the music to help build balance, coordination, body awareness and rhythm skills.
how to make a simple bottle shaker to play music with baby and encourage psychological development

Make a simple bottle shaker to make music

  • Get creative with music making equipment. Use pots and pans, or make a simple shaker from an old plastic bottle filled with pulses, dried pasta or something that makes a noise. We made one using red lentils and tapioca (pictured left).
  • Look for local and free activities to get involved in. Local libraries where we are do baby singing sessions. They are about 30-45 minutes of singing nursery rhymes together in a big circle, using actions and sometimes props like colourful pieces of material to wave around and puppets (e.g. animal puppets for Old McDonald Had a Farm).
  • Enjoy listening to and experiencing the music with your child, rather than worrying if it’s the “right kind” of music or that it should be prescriptive somehow, e.g. you must listen to 10 minutes of Mozart a day in order to increase IQ. This is because the research is mainly reporting the benefits of music to be around skills of concentration, listening and discipline (among others).

 

 

 

References:
James Hudziak, M.D. et al. Cortical Thickness Maturation and Duration of Music Training: Health-Promoting Activities Shape Brain Development. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, December 2014
David Gerry, Andrea Unrau, Laurel J. Trainor. Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social development. Developmental Science, 2012; 15 (3): 398
Laurel J. Trainor. Musical experience, plasticity, and maturation: issues in measuring developmental change using EEG and MEG. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2012; 1252 (1): 25
Rauscher FH, Shaw GL, Ky KN. (1993). Music and Spatial Task Performance. Nature, 365(6447):611.

Research on reading: vocabulary benefits. Oh and our baby health review

reading with baby, research shows link between reading for pleasure and vocabulary. baby-brain.co.uk

Free stuff from our child health review; toothbrush and books

We went for a health review today as the Little Lovely is NEARLY A YEAR OLD (almost unbelievable).
Anyway, as part of that we got some free stuff from the government. Booty! Yes, we got a free toothbrush, toothpaste and a bookstart kit that included 2 baby board books, some nursery rhymes and a booklet with a £1 book voucher in it. So, looks like government wants to develop a generation of book readers with good teeth. Sounds alright to me I suppose!

So when I got home, I looked up the bookstart website and had a look around their site. Came across some interesting research on their research blog about the benefits on vocabulary of reading for pleasure. They write:

 

 

 

Reading for pleasure in childhood has big vocabulary benefits later in life

 

This research from the Institute of Education looks at how vocabulary scores change between ages 16 to 42.

 

The findings show that the frequency of reading for pleasure is positively linked with vocabulary scores, and what people read matters just as much as how often they read.

“Those who regularly read for pleasure at age 10 scored 67% in the vocabulary test at age 42, whereas those who didn’t read regularly aged 10 scored 52%.

– Regular readers tended to have higher vocabulary scores at age 10 and 16

 

– Regular childhood readers (measured at age 10 and age 16) were still 9 percentage points ahead at age 42.

 

 

– The researchers speculate that regular childhood readers are likely to have picked up ‘good reading habits’ which continued into adulthood.

 

– The type of reading material also made a difference: the greatest gains in vocabulary scores were seen in those who read ‘highbrow’ fiction.

Based on information from bookstart research blog, The Institute of Education news (read their article here) and Sullivan and Brown, 2014. Vocabulary from adolescence to middle-age, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Working Paper 2014/7

Return to the baby lab – we’re infant scientists, again! (psychological research participant)

The Little Lovely, (age 11m 2 weeks) acted as a baby research participant again.

infant psychological research participant @the baby lab. Taking part in the study with EEG hat

Taking part in another research study

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.

 

baby-brain.co.uk infant psychological research participant @the baby lab. bear shows EEG
Mr Bear shows us how to wear the EEG hat

 

The study: We’re ready to learn!

infant psychological research participant @the baby lab. Taking part in the study with EEG hat
Another day, another fancy hat
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.

 

infant psychological research participant @the baby lab. Taking part in the study with EEG hat
In the study room – what’s going on?

 

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.

 

infant psychological research participant @the baby lab. Taking part in the study with EEG hat
A well deserved play and nap after taking part in the research

baby and infant visual development

A little piece about baby and infant visual development:

What can babies see in the first few months of life?

The visual system is not fully developed at birth (1), and sight develops gradually. Baby has difficulty distinguishing between similar colours such as orange and red and so prefer high contrast colours such as black and white.
  • This is why you might see toys, pictures, stories for young infants in black and white, or simple high contrast patterns and colours
In fact, some research shows that infants might prefer blue and purple colours (2). This article outlines that:

Babies do have color preferences, and these preferences seem to be mostly determined by hue. Blues and purples are babies’ favorites, while greens, yellows, and reds are liked less

 

…Does this mean expectant parents should run off to buy purple and blue toys?… In the end, I doubt it would make that much difference in a baby’s life. The first few months of infancy are over quite quickly, and are spent mostly sleeping…but it’s still interesting to see how babies’ visual systems develop, and how at just 3 months of age they do appear perceive colors in a way that is analogous to adults.”

Here’s some high contrast images that can be printed out:
Download & print for free: High contrast images, newborn & baby, visual images, 0-6 months

Click on image to open

 

Download & print for free: High contrast images, newborn & baby, visual images, 0-6 months

simple square high contrast flash cards for baby. Visual Stimulation. from baby-brain.co.uk

 

What do babies prefer to look at?

  • Newborns have shown a preference for looking at faces (3)
  • Some research suggests that ability to process faces is quite well developed, despite the very young age, and might not be much different to an adults’ ability (4)
  • Infants are probably born with some information about the structure of faces (5)

 

 

What about other stuff like depth perception? Are babies born with it?

No one wants their child to go crawling off the sofa, table, any other deep drop. There’s a “classic” psychological study called the “visual cliff” (6) (Gibson and Walk, 1960; read the article here) that looked at depth perception. The psychologists predicted that depth perception would be something we are born with, rather than something we learn as children. They therefore developed an experiment to test this prediction with babies aged 6-14 months.
The study set up a “visual cliff”, which used a board laid over a heavy glass sheet, raised from the floor, with some patterned fabric under it. The fabric was immediately beneath the glass but then it looks as though it “drops off” on one half of the glass because the fabric is then laid down on the floor below (rather than directly beneath the glass). The glass still covers the space though, so it creates the visual effect of a drop off, or “cliff”, but the glass is still sturdy and continues across the drop so that any crawling baby will not actually fall, but it can see that there is a drop below.
The parent then stands on the “cliff side” and calls for the baby to crawl over to them from the “shallow side”. Many of the children found it difficult to crawl over to the parent because of the perceived drop. Only 3 of 27 “crept off the brink” onto the drop, many crawled away from the parent as they called to the baby from the cliff side, and some cried because they couldn’t get to the parent without crossing an apparent drop (this is an old study when ethics committees were maybe slightly differently, ok, so maybe not so nice to read about the kids crying)

Often they would peer down through the glass on the deep side and then back away. Others would pat the glass with their hands, yet despite this tactual assurance of solidity would refuse to cross. (pg 64)

The study concludes that:
Most human infants can discriminate depth as soon as they can crawl.

 

and… The behavior of the children in this situation gave clear evidence of their dependence on vision. (pg 64)

 Still, a good idea to buy those stair gates and other relevant protection though, yeah?!

 

 

References:

  1. Brémond-Gignac D., Copin H., Lapillonne A., Milazzo S. (2011). Visual development in infants: physiological and pathological mechanismsCurr. Opin. Ophthalmol. 22, S1–S8
  2. ZEMACH, I., CHANG, S., & TELLER, D. (2007). Infant color vision: Prediction of infants’ spontaneous color preferences Vision Research, 47 (10), 1368-1381
  3. Stein, T., Peelen, M. V., & Sterzer, P. (2011b). Adults’ awareness of faces follows newborns’ looking preferences. PLoS ONE, 6(12), e29361.
  4. Farroni T, Johnson MH, Menon E, Zulian L, Faraguna D, et al. (2005) Newborns’ preference for face-relevant stimuli: Effects of contrast polarity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102: 17245–17250.
  5. Morton, J., & Johnson, M. H. (1991). A Two-Process Theory of Infant Face Recognition. Psychological Review, 98 (2),164-181
  6. Gibson, E.J.; Walk, R.D. (1960). “Visual Cliff”. Scientific American 202 (4): 64

Psychological research: winter babies crawl earlier than summer babies

Psychological research paper: are there differences in crawling age between winter and summer babies? baby-brain.co.uk. Psychological perspective, resource and blog on motherhood

Crawling baby

Psychological research paper: I saw this paper here, about crawling, thought it looked interesting:

Babies Born in the Winter Start Crawling Earlier Than Those Born in the Summer

Study shows a seasonal effect on the pace of motor development in babies

 

Babies born between December and May (“winter” babies) were found to start to crawl earlier compared to those born between June and November (“summer” babies – although November is bit a bit winter-ish if you ask me, but hey-ho). The study involved motor observations at home when babies were 7 months old, and following the babies up when they started crawling. Parents were also asked to record the stages in their babies’ development.

The average age at which the babies started crawling was 31 weeks. But while the babies born in the winter (who started to crawl in the summer) started to crawl at an average 30 weeks, those born in the summer (who started to crawl in the winter) began crawling at an average of 35 weeks, with no differences noted between the boys or the girls or in the initial style of crawling (belly crawling or using hands and knees).

They also used a measure that assessed 4 different positions: Prone (on the stomach), supine (on the back), sitting, and standing – the overall scores the babies got on this assessment was higher for winter babies, but, there were no significant differences in scores between the winter and summer babies on the scores for the supine position, sitting, or standing.

So what do the researchers conclude?

According to the researchers, the findings strengthen the assumption that there is a window of opportunity for starting to crawl and stress the effect of the season on the start of crawling.

The current study took place in Israel. They talk about the seasonal effect because other studies where there is quite a difference between seasons have found similiar results, e.g. in Denver, Colorado and Osaka, Japan. But, but a study that took place in Alberta, Canada, didn’t find any seasonal effect. Despite winters being “long and cold” there, the researchers write that the environment in the house is very similar all year round because of winter heating.

They write:

“Although the winter in Israel is comparatively mild…. it turns out that it nonetheless influences the motor development of babies because of the differences between summer and winter in Israel,”

⇒ So why does season and seasonal effects seem to be relevant to when babies start to crawl?

The study notes that:

“The season influences the babies’ experiences in a number of ways, including

  • layers of clothing that are worn

  • the opportunities babies are given to spend on the floor on their stomachs, and,

  • the hours of activity and daylight

Awareness of the seasonal effect is important so that parents will give their babies proper movement and development opportunities in the winter as well,” 

Ooooh I see, so it’s not necessarily anything inherent about winter vs summer children, but about environmental factors and what is going on in the baby’s home and environment when they are developing and reaching the age that they might start to develop crawling skills.

Those born in winter will approach crawling ready age in spring/summer where there might be more opportunities to go out, have more hours of day light in which in play, less restrictive or thick clothing on so that they can practice movement more freely, etc.

psychological research: Do babies understand speech?

Do babies understand speech? What does the psychological research say - yes! Infant verbal understanding

Do babies understand speech?

I saw this interesting research paper today (1) about whether babies as young as 6 months understand that speech is used to communicate information (rather than random, interesting sounds that come out of our mouths).

 

→ Babies at 6 months appear to understand that speech transfers information between people

Some people might think – but of course! Others might think, wow, that’s early to understand such a thing.

 

 

 

The study also mentioned that:
  • Previous research (2, 3) has shown that 12 month old children can understand that speech transfers information, even when the speech is unknown or a new experience for them.
  • By 6 months, babies prefer speech over other sounds (4)
  • They also associate speech as coming from people, rather than other animals, for example (5)

 

What the experiment did:

The researchers looked at:

  • Whether 6 month olds could recognise that speech can communicate something about an object.
  • In the experiment the baby watched an actor reach for one of two different objects. There was also a second person present. Next, the actor could no longer reach the objects, but the second person could
    • so they either “spoke” to the person (they actually spoke a nonsense word, not a real conversation)
    • or made a non-speech communication (a cough).
  • The second person would then pick up one of the objects (there was a “target” object and a “non-preferred” object)
  • The results showed that babies looked at the actor for longer when they reached for the non-preferred object than the target object when they made the nonsense word, but not when when they coughed.

The study concludes that at 6 months, even though babies have a very small receptive vocabulary, infants have some abstract understanding of the communicative function of speech. This understanding may help with their development of language and knowledge.

Conclusion
Six-month olds infer that a vocalization that takes the
form of speech, even without any previously established
meaning, can communicate information about an object…….

 

…… even before knowing many words, infants can already use their understanding of the abstract role of speech in communication to evaluate the outcome of communicative interactions. (pg7)

The main points:
  • babies understand that speech is used to communicate and has a communicative function before they build their vocabularies and start to speak.
  • understanding that speech is used to communicate may happen before the child develops language, and this understanding may also provide a mechanism for early language acquisition:
  •  Babies start to learn quite early on that speech transfers information and may use this abstract understanding to learn about the meaning of individual words (6)

 

interesting!

 

References:
  1. Vouloumanos, A., Martin, A., & Onishi, K. H. (2014). Do 6-month-olds understand that speech can communicate? Developmental Science, pp 1–8
  2. Martin, A., Onishi, K.H., & Vouloumanos, A. (2012). Understanding the abstract role of speech in communication at 12 months. Cognition, 123 (1), 50 – 60. 
  3. Vouloumanos, A., Onishi, K .H., & Pogue, A. (2012). Twelve-month-old infants recognize that speech can communicate unobservable intentions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , 109 (32),12933 – 12937.
  4. Vouloumanos, A., & Werker, J.F. (2004). Tuned to the signal:the privileged status of speech for young infants. Develop-mental Science.  7 (3), 270-276
  5. Vouloumanos, A., Druhen, M. J., Hauser, M.D., & Huizink, A.T. (2009). Five-month-old infants’ identification of thesources of vocalizations.  Proceedings of the National Acad-emy of Sciences of the United States of America,106 (44),18867-18872.
  6. Waxman, S.R., & Leddon, E.M. (2002). Early word learning and conceptual development: everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. In U. Goswami(Ed.),The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of childhood cognitivedevelopment (pp. 102-126). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell
For further references in relation to infant cognition and communication see this page here from the infant cognition and communication lab

I’m an infant scientist!

look at my fancy hat

look at my fancy hat

Not me – the Little Lovely (LL). He also beat me to making a contribution to psychology and science by about 18 years, and that’s only if A-level psychology counts, which in terms of making any significant contribution to science, my A-level psychology certainly did not. What am I talking about? Well I signed baby up to take part in a baby-lab research project, at Birkbeck BabyLab and Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. And all we got was this T-shirt! (picture to come, once I can get LL to pose in it for me, t-shirt is currently in the wash after getting dribble and other stuff on it). Not really, 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.
So what did we do? LL had to watch a video involving a number of short clips of a person doing a certain activity on the screen, whilst wearing some interesting head gear. I won’t go into the specifics of it, just in case anyone is interested in participating, but the study was investigating brain activation underlying infants’ understanding of other people’s beliefs. Previous research had found that babies as young as 6 months were able to track another person’s beliefs and make predictions about the person’s actions based on those beliefs.
The study LL took part in was looking at which parts of the brain were responsible for understanding others’ beliefs, hence the fancy headgear which I think is supposed to detect which areas of the brain are activated and “light up”, when looking at the video clips. LL was not harmed in any way, or in any discomfort! And he had two very nice researchers paying him a lot of attention, plus I got a cup of tea, which is always a nice bonus, and to re-engage my brain in terms of thinking about psychological research.

 

⇒ ♥ ♥  ♥ Infant Scientists Wanted! ♥ ♥  ♥ ⇐

 

 

 

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