Babies wanted for scientific studies at the Essex Babylab

Researchers at the Essex Babylab are looking for babies to take part in scientific studies aimed at increasing our understanding of how children learn and develop.

Having been closed due to the pandemic the Babylab, based at the University of Essex, is now ready to welcome families back to participate in studies.

Any parent with a child under three, as well as those expecting a baby, can get involved. They can register their interest and will then be contacted when their child is the rights age for one of the studies.

Dr Maria Laura Filippetti explained: “Our research aims to answer questions like ‘How do infants develop language and an understanding of the world?’, ‘How do infants learn about their own body?’, ‘How can we promote a healthy start in life?’. We know that the first years of a child’s life are critical for their development and wellbeing, so answering such key questions ultimately helps us to support children in their early years. For example, we’ve found that copying babies’ facial expressions teaches them how to copy others, and this is important because it suggests that responding to your baby’s vocalisation and actions will help them to learn about their own actions and emotions.

“We also discovered that to learn about their bodies, babies make associations between different senses. These results suggest that sensory experience, such as sensory play, may help babies understand what their bodies are capable of. As our body provides the scaffolding to all that we do, this may help in supporting babies’ interactions with the world.”

Because babies can’t talk yet, scientists have to use other ways to find out what is going on inside their heads. They use high-tech equipment such as near-infrared light (NIRS) or a cap with sensors on (EEG) to safely measure brain activity while babies listen to sounds, play with toys or watch videos on a screen. They also use eye tracking devices to learn what attracts babies’ attention.

“These baby-friendly methods provide us with vital information that helps us understand more about how infants develop language skills, how they become social human beings and how they make sense of the world they live in,” added Dr Filippetti.

During the pandemic the researchers moved a lot of their research online and parents can also participate in studies from the comfort of their own home. All they need is a computer or tablet, an internet connection and a small human! There are studies for babies and young children and they usually involve playing, watching videos, or taking part in fun games. Current studies are looking at everything from Smartphone use and parenting to how babies learn to regulate their emotions.

Anyone interested in taking part , either in the lab, or from home, can email the team: [email protected] or send them a private message through their Facebook page.

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