Early development starts in the womb. Then we are born; spend our first few months in our parents’ arms; and gradually transition towards childcare, nursery or school. During this time we transition from co-regulatory control, shared between parent and infant, towards self-regulatory control, managed by the child alone. This project, which includes five PhDs funded by a Starter Grant from the European Research Council and one PhD funded by the UBEL DTP, uses new naturalistic home recordings and naturalistic neuroimaging data to study this transition. Click here to read more.
Recent research has suggested that interpersonal neural entrainment develops during social interaction. But how, mechanistically, is interpersonal neural entrainment developed, and maintained? This project, which included three PhDs funded by the Leverhulme Trust, aims to address this question by administering targeted experimental interventions to measure the effect the microdynamics of parent-child interaction. You can read more about it here.
Infants spend most of their waking time interacting with their caregivers, and the mechanisms through which these dynamic social exchanges shape the development of sub-personal processes such as attention and learning remain mysterious. This project is funded by a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship to Louise Goupil. It uses live dual EEG recordings from infants and adults to look at social influences during early learning exchanges. Click here to read more.
Everything that infants learn during early life comes from things that they pick up from their early environment. But how does infants’ sensitivity to information in their environment change and develop over time? This project is funded by an ESRC studentship to Katie Daubney and a PhD scholarship from the Turkish Government to Zeynep Suata. Click here to read more.
Clinically elevated levels of anxiety represent the most prevalent child mental health condition in the world. Available evidence suggests a key role of environmental influences in the development of anxiety, with recent research suggesting that early childhood is a crucial period for identifying environmental risk factors. This project, funded by a London Interdisciplinary Social Sciences PhD to Celia Smith, uses naturalistic biobehavioural recording techniques to examine the mechanisms of emotion dysregulation in dyads at elevated likelihood of anxiety conditions and other psychiatric disorders. Click here to read more.
In 1800 5% of the world’s children were raised in cities. Today, that figure is 55%. Children from the UK spend less time playing in natural places than previous generations and are less likely to have nature near their homes. Children from lower income households and ethnic minorities are least likely to visit natural environments. This project, which is funded by a studentship from the ESRC, in collaboration with Jan Dubiel and a partnership with Newham Learning, looks at how childrens’ learning, behaviour and stress levels might differ between indoor and outdoor learning environments. The project is led by Gemma Goldenberg. Click here to read more.
Almost all research looking at how stress affects early development has concentrated on static, time-invariant snapshots of stress – such as questionnaires, or ‘static snapshot’ measures such as cortisol or allostatic load. But stress is, by definition, a dynamical system that mediates adaptation to a fluctuating environment. In this project, funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council, we used wireless miniatured wearable sensors and naturalistic neuroimaging to test how dynamical fluctuations in children’s early physical environment (sights and sounds) and social environment (people around them) affect neural activity, physiology and behaviour across multiple time-scales. Click here to read more.
Can group life develop in infancy? What does it look and sound like? Can artistic research produce a new understanding of infancy through a sensory, observational image? A collaboration between the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and the BabyDevLab, and additional partners of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Practice and LUX, Emanuel Almborg’s forthcoming postdoctoral project, The Social Infant, will attempt to answer such questions. This project will re-evaluate film’s observational mode to produce a new image of early childhood.
From the very start of life, children grow up in close physical proximity with their caregivers. As a result, biological and behavioural processes become coordinated with the caregiver, preparing the child to live in social groups. This project, funded by The Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), aims to quantify this biobehavioural synchrony, with regard to EEG, eye gaze, facial and motor mimicry, autonomic nervous system stress physiology, emotion and behaviour, in order to assess the quality of social interactions. You can read more about it here.
Newham Storytelling Project: Exploring the psychology of stories and play at Discover Children’s Story Centre
We know that all children are different and learn and behave in different ways. What we are less certain of, is how to accommodate for this vast variability when tailoring educational experiences for all. This project will conduct research with children aged 0-8 years old and their caregivers, as they explore Discover’s immersive exhibition – a space for play and storytelling, where stories are brought to life. This project will utilise innovative developmental psychology research to investigate how children play and learn, use the interactives, and engage with each other, their adults and Discover’s ‘Story Builders’. Discover will use these findings to inform planning and design of future exhibitions, as well as gaining valuable insight into how children and parents engage in stories.
We know that the environment that a child grows up in profoundly influences how they develop. But, at the moment, our tools for measuring how environments influence early development are surprisingly limited. This project, funded by a COST action, will aim to develop and test new open-source techniques for objectively measuring a range of different features of children’s early environments. We will also set up large-scale data collection networks to measure early home environments across European nations and with neurodiverse communities. You can read more about the project here.
Although ADHD tends to be diagnosed in school-aged children, most of the factors that increase the likelihood of a child developing ADHD are present from birth. This project, funded by an MRC Project Grant awarded jointly to UEL BabyDev Lab and the BONDS lab at Birkbeck, will use techniques including dual EEG and home recordings to look at how early-emerging behavioural changes, detectable as early as infancy, may lead to developmental cascades that can lead to ADHD. You can read more about the project here.
Understanding the Neural Pathways Through Which Unpredictable Caregiver Behaviours Affect Development
Some caregivers are very predictable in how they interact with their infants, and others are less predictable. Children exposed to unpredictable, fragmented signals from their mothers during their first year of life showed poorer performance on a range of cognitive outcomes during later life, after accounting for covariates. This forthcoming project, funded by an ESRC UBEL DTP studentship to Katie Lancaster, will use state-of-the-art techniques, including dual EEG recordings within complex, dynamic, real-world interactions, to investigate the hypothesis that unpredictable or inconsistent caregiver responsiveness can affect how children’s brains process social information from caregivers.