UEL Baby Dev Lab

Exploring Coordination in Neural Systems

Exploring Coordination in Neural Systems

Ira Marriott-Haresign

Hi! I am Ira, a PhD student supervised by Prof. Sam Wass working on a project funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

My work explores coordination in neural systems, examining if and how, mechanistically this might develop during social interactions. Early social interactions between parents and infants offers an ideal setting for this, as temporal coordination of behavior during parent-child social interaction has been shown to be crucial in supporting early language acquisition and cognitive development [1, 2].

The data that we collect as part of the Leverhulme project offers the opportunity for lots of exciting and novel exploratory analysis, but practically it is very challenging data to work with. As such much of my work so far has focused on developing a robust framework for cleaning and analysing this data. For example, in previous work we have shown how using ICA to clean EEG data is crucial for naturistic data collection, in which unwanted aritfacts are often systematically linked with key moments of interest. In this work we developed a system for automatically cleaning unwanted artifacts from naturalistic infant EEG data.

Another focus of mine so far has been on examining different ways of analysing dual EEG data and how these can be leveraged to investigate how the coordination of neural activity between individuals might develop. For example, in previous work we explored how two different classes of EEG entrainment analysis can be applied to different aspects of the EEG signal and how these result in different interpretations

Overview of Leverhulme project

The Leverhulme project aims to investigate social attention during real, dynamic social interactions between parents and infants. Through this work we aim to identify key external (e.g., maternal behaviour and brain activity) and internal (e.g., infants’ endogenous attention and brain activity) influences of infant’s attention during early social interactions.

This work is motivated by key evidence suggesting clear social influences of how infants pay attention during and learn from early social exchanges. For example, 9-month-old infants learn new speech sounds better through live interaction with an adult than through watching an equivalent video of someone speaking [3]. When a 16-month-old infant initiates an exchange by pointing to an object, their memory retention for functions subsequently demonstrated on that object is increased [4]. And when a parent pays attention to a particular object while interacting with their 12-month-old infant, this immediately in- creases the infant’s own duration of attention to that object [5]. However currently, most of our knowledge of how the developing brain functions during social interaction comes from studies that examine individual humans in isolation [6–9].

In the lab, we record dual EEG and ECG data from parents and infants (aged 10-12 months) whilst they engage in unstructured free play activities. This allows us to examine dynamic brain-behaviour influences during parent-infant social interaction.


Wass, S. V., Whitehorn, M., Haresign, I. M., Phillips, E., & Leong, V. (2020). Interpersonal neural entrainment during early social interaction. Trends in cognitive sciences24(4), 329-342.

Haresign, I. M., Phillips, E., Whitehorn, M., Noreika, V., Jones, E. J. H., Leong, V., & Wass, S. V. (2021). Automatic classification of ICA components from infant EEG using MARA. Developmental cognitive neuroscience52, 101024.

Haresign, I. M., Phillips, E., Whitehorn, M., Goupil, L., & Wass, S. V. (2021). Using dual EEG to analyse event-locked changes in child-adult neural connectivity. BioRxiv.

Phillips, E., Goupil, L., Haresign, I. M., Bruce-Gardyne, E., Csolsim, F. A., Whitehorn, M., … & Wass, S. (2021). Proactive or reactive? Neural oscillatory insight into the leader-follower dynamics of early infant-caregiver interaction.


  1. Rogoff B (1990) Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context (Oxford Univ Press, New York).
  2. Csibra G, Gergely G (1998) The teleological origins of mentalistic action explanations: A developmental hypothesis. Dev Sci 1:255–259.
  3. Kuhl, P.K. et al. (2003) Foreign-language experience in in- fancy: effects of short-term exposure and social interaction on phonetic learning. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 100, 9096–9101
  4. Begus, K. et al. (2014) Infants learn what they want to learn: Responding to infant pointing leads to superior learning. PLoS One 9, e108817
  5. Yu, C., and Smith, L.B. (2016) The social origins of sustained attention in one-year-old human infants. Curr. Biol. 26, 1235–1240
  6. Schilbach, L. et al. (2013) Toward a second-person neurosci- ence 1. Behav. Brain Sci. 36, 393–414
  7. Wheatley, T. et al. (2019) Beyond the isolated brain: the promise and challenge of interacting minds. Neuron 103, 186–188
  8. Redcay, E. and Schilbach, L. (2019) Using second-person neuroscience to elucidate the mechanisms of social interaction. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 20, 495–505
  9. Redcay, E. and Warnell, K.R. (2018) A social-interactive neuro- science approach to understanding the developing brain. In Advances in Child Development and Behavior, pp. 1–44, Elsevier