Baby Learning and Infant Sensitivity to the Environment (BLAISE)
“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion”
The recent shift from mainly rural living to majority urban living – that’s has taken place quite rapidly over the past couple of hundred years of our development – has been accompanied by a big change in the types of visual and auditory environment in which we spend the majority of our early lives.
But we understand relatively little at the moment about how these changes affect our early development. This is because, historically, there haven’t been that many methods available to capture and study the different types of environment that different children experience at home.
For this project we went right back to the drawing board! (Literally!) To design some new low-cost wearable devices that young infants could wear in home settings. We used these to capture the sights and sounds that different children experience, and to measure how their autonomic nervous system (defined from heart rate and movement patterns) responded to what they were experiencing.
In one paper we showed for the first time that children who experienced noisier and more unpredictable home environments showed more unstable autonomic arousal patterns overall in home settings. And, because the autonomic arousal system is involved both in emotional responding (e.g. emotion regulation) and in cognitive operations (e.g. paying attention), we were able to link these early atypical arousal patterns to atypicalities both in emotion regulation and attention. This points to a previously unstudied mechanism through which environmental noise exposure may confer increased risk of adverse mental health and impaired cognitive performance during later life.
In another paper we looked at how urban density affects early development, suggesting that even by 12 months, infants raised in more high density settings show increased physiological stress. And, consistent with previous findings on how stress affects attention, we found that high-stress urban infants showed a profile that included weaknesses in some areas (e.g. reduced sustained attention) and strengths in others (e.g. faster learning in certain contexts).
To find out more about this project you can watch this video:
Samuel V Wass, Celia G Smith, Louise Stubbs, Kaili Clackson, & Farhan U Mirza (2021). Physiological stress, sustained attention, emotion regulation, and cognitive engagement in 12-month-old infants from urban environments. Developmental Psychology. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2021-88984-001
Wass, S. (2021). Allostasis and metastasis: the yin and yang of childhood self-regulation. PsyArXiv. https://psyarxiv.com/cth4m/
Wass, S., Smith, C., Clackson, K., & Mirza, F. (2021). In infancy, it’s the extremes of arousal that are ‘sticky’: Naturalistic data challenge purely homeostatic approaches to studying self-regulation. Developmental Science. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/desc.13059
Wass, S., Goupil, L., Smith, C., & Greenwood, E. (2021). Needing to shout to be heard? Affective dysregulation, caregiver under-responsivity, and disconnection between vocal signalling and autonomic arousal in infants from chaotic households. PsyArXiv. https://psyarxiv.com/z7whq/
Wass, S. (2021). How the development of executive function influences our moment-by-moment interactions with the real-world environment. PsyArXiv. https://psyarxiv.com/p2qb8/