UEL Baby Dev Lab

Studying the Microdynamics of Social Interaction (SMSI)

Studying the Microdynamics of Social Interaction (SMSI)

SMSI participants

Infants spend almost all of their early waking lives in the company of adults. And we know that social context influences how we pay attention, and learn. For example we know – both from formal experiments and from day-to-day life! – that when an adult attends to the same object as an infant, this increases the child’s attentiveness towards that object.

But we don’t know very much at the moment about how these types of transient social influences are substantiated in the brain.

Recently there has been an uptick in interest in recording from multiple brains at the same time, to try to get some new perspectives on how interacting brains dynamically influence each other during social interaction.

SMSI interaction data  

Early research has suggested, consistent with e.g. animal research, that during social interaction we can see similarities in the activity patterns between infants’ and adults’ brains while they are engaged in social interaction. For example, in one study we compared episodes where an adult is looking directly at a child with those where they are looking away from the child. We found that, during direct gaze, the adult’s brain activity becomes more predictive of the infant’s brain activity, and vice versa, over a very fine-grained time-scale (3-9Hz, or oscillations per second).

But how, mechanistically, is it possible that two interacting brains could influence one another over such a fine-grained time-scale? The 3 PhDs working on the project have all taken different approaches to trying to answer this question:

Ira Marriott Haresign is looking at fine-grained changes in brain activity relative to eye movements – concentrating in particular on naturally occurring episodes of mutual gaze during an interaction. You can read more about his work here.

Emily Phillips is looking at how vocalisations and other types of behaviour affect the microdynamics of parent-child interaction. You can read more about her work here.

Megan Whitehorn is concentrating on the role of directed attention, and administering a training intervention to examine how childrens’ capacity for internally driven attention affects how receptive they are to social cues.  You can read more about her work here.

Latest publications

  1. I. Marriott Haresign, E.A.M Phillips, M. Whitehorn, F. Lamagna, M. Eliano, L. Goupil, E.J.H. Jones, S.V. Wass (2022). Gaze onsets during naturalistic infant-caregiver interaction associate with ‘sender’ but not ‘receiver’ neural responses, and do not lead to changes in inter-brain synchrony. bioRxiv. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.05.27.493545v1

  2. I.Marriott Haresign, E.A.M.Phillips, M.Whitehorn, L.Goupil, V.Noreika, V.Leong, S.V.Wass (2022). Measuring the temporal dynamics of inter-personal neural entrainment in continuous child-adult EEG hyperscanning data. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878929322000378

  3. Marriott-Haresign, I., Phillips, E., Whitehorn, M., Goupil, L., & Wass, S. (2021). Using dual EEG to analyse event-locked changes in child-adult neural connectivity. BioRxiv. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.06.15.448573.abstract

  4. Phillips, E., Wass, S. (2021). Bidirectional Mechanisms rather than Alternatives: The Role of Sustained Attention in Interactive Contexts Can Only Be Understood through Joint Attention. Human Development. https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/515869

  5. Phillips, E., Goupil, L., Marriott-Haresign, I., Bruce-Gardyne, E., Csolsim, F. A., Whitehorn, M., Leong, M., Wass., S. (2021). Proactive or reactive? Neural oscillatory insight into the leader-follower dynamics of early infant-caregiver interaction. PsyArXiv. https://europepmc.org/article/PPR/PPR432300