UEL Baby Dev Lab

14 challenges and their solutions for conducting social neuroscience and longitudinal EEG research with infants

Noreika, V., Georgieva, S., Wass, S., & Leong, V. 2020. Infant Behaviour & Development

The use of electroencephalography (EEG) to study infant brain development is a growing trend. In
addition to classical longitudinal designs that study the development of neural, cognitive and behavioural functions, new areas of EEG application are emerging, such as novel social neuroscience
paradigms using dual infant-adult EEG recordings. However, most of the experimental designs, analysis
methods, as well as EEG hardware were originally developed for single-person adult research. When
applied to study infant development, adult-based solutions often pose unique problems that may go
unrecognised. Here, we identify 14 challenges that infant EEG researchers may encounter when designing new experiments, collecting data, and conducting data analysis. Challenges related to the
experimental design are: (1) small sample size and data attrition, and (2) varying arousal in younger
infants. Challenges related to data acquisition are: (3) determining the optimal location for reference
and ground electrodes, (4) control of impedance when testing with the high-density sponge electrode
nets, (5) poor fit of standard EEG caps to the varying infant head shapes, and (6) ensuring a high
degree of temporal synchronisation between amplifiers and recording devices during dual-EEG acquisition. Challenges related to the analysis of longitudinal and social neuroscience datasets are: (7)
developmental changes in head anatomy, (8) prevalence and diversity of infant myogenic artefacts, (9)
a lack of stereotypical topography of eye movements needed for the ICA-based data cleaning, (10) and
relatively high inter-individual variability of EEG responses in younger cohorts. Additional challenges
for the analysis of dual EEG data are: (11) developmental shifts in canonical EEG rhythms and difficulties in differentiating true inter-personal synchrony from spurious synchrony due to (12) common
intrinsic properties of the signal and (13) shared external perturbation. Finally, (14) there is a lack of
test-retest reliability studies of infant EEG. We describe each of these challenges and suggest possible
solutions. While we focus specifically on the social neuroscience and longitudinal research, many of the
issues we raise are relevant for all fields of infant EEG research.