UEL Baby Dev Lab

Toward a Neuroscientific Understanding of Play: A Dimensional Coding Framework for Analyzing Infant–Adult Play Patterns

Neale, D., Clackson, K., Georgieva, S., Dedetas, H., Scarpate, M., Wass, S., & Leong, V. 2018. Frontiers in Psychology

Play during early life is a ubiquitous activity, and an individual’s propensity for play is positively related to cognitive development and emotional well-being. Play behavior (which may be solitary or shared with a social partner) is diverse and multi-faceted. A challenge for current research is to converge on a common definition and measurement system for play – whether examined at a behavioral, cognitive or neurological level. Combining these different approaches in a multimodal analysis could yield significant advances in understanding the neurocognitive mechanisms of play, and provide the basis for developing biologically grounded play models. However, there is currently no integrated framework for conducting a multimodal analysis of play that spans brain, cognition and behavior. The proposed coding framework uses grounded and observable behaviors along three dimensions (sensorimotor, cognitive and socio-emotional), to compute inferences about playful behavior in a social context, and related social interactional states. Here, we illustrate the sensitivity and utility of the proposed coding framework using two contrasting dyadic corpora (N = 5) of mother-infant object-oriented interactions during experimental conditions that were either non-conducive (Condition 1) or conducive (Condition 2) to the emergence of playful behavior. We find that the framework accurately identifies the modal form of social interaction as being either non-playful (Condition 1) or playful (Condition 2), and further provides useful insights about differences in the quality of social interaction and temporal synchronicity within the dyad. It is intended that this fine-grained coding of play behavior will be easily assimilated with, and inform, future analysis of neural data that is also collected during adult–infant play. In conclusion, here, we present a novel framework for analyzing the continuous time-evolution of adult–infant play patterns, underpinned by biologically informed state coding along sensorimotor, cognitive and socio-emotional dimensions. We expect that the proposed framework will have wide utility amongst researchers wishing to employ an integrated, multimodal approach to the study of play, and lead toward a greater understanding of the neuroscientific basis of play. It may also yield insights into a new biologically grounded taxonomy of play interactions.

Sing to me, baby: Infants show neural tracking and rhythmic movements to live and dynamic maternal singing.

Nguyen, T., Reisner, S., Lueger, A., Wass, S. V., Hoehl, S., & Markova, G. 2023. BioRxiv

Infant-directed singing has unique acoustic characteristics that may allow even very young infants to respond to the rhythms carried through the caregiver’s voice. The goal of this study was to examine neural and movement responses to live and dynamic maternal singing in 7-month-old infants and their relation to linguistic development. In total, 60 mother-infant dyads were observed during two singing conditions (playsong and lullaby). In Study 1 ( n = 30), we measured infant EEG and used an encoding approach utilizing ridge regressions to measure neural tracking. In Study 2 ( n = 30), we coded infant rhythmic movements. In both studies, we assessed children’s vocabulary when they were 20 months old. In Study 1, we found above-threshold neural tracking of maternal singing, with superior tracking of lullabies than playsongs. We also found that the acoustic features of infant-directed singing modulated tracking. In Study 2, infants showed more rhythmic movement to playsongs than lullabies. Importantly, neural coordination (Study 1) and rhythmic movement (Study 2) to playsongs were positively related to infants’ expressive vocabulary at 20 months. These results highlight the importance of infants’ brain and movement coordination to their caregiver’s musical presentations, potentially as a function of musical variability.