The development of body representation in infancy
Research into the development of infants’ understanding of the physical world has tended to focus on how babies learn about objects, scenes, and other people. But babies have bodies, so why has infancy research neglected to investigate how babies perceive and understand their own bodies and limbs, the foundation of self understanding and self awareness? Andy Bremner, Giulia Orioli and colleagues are undertaking a major programme of research into the early development of infants’ ability to perceive their own bodies and limbs and their understanding of how their bodies and the outside world fit together. Our research shows that despite some early abilities, young infants take some time to learn about how the tactile world of the body relates to the visual environment, and how their limbs move in visual space.
Multisensory development in infancy
The human infant develops in a startlingly complex sensory world where its brain and nervous system is bombarded with information from touch, taste, smell, proprioception, vestibular input, audition, and vision. All of these sense channels provide information about objects and events in different ways. How the human foetus and infant comes to make sense of the multisensory mélange remains hotly debated in philosophy and developmental psychology. And yet, researchers have only just begun to consider the crucial question of how the developing brain solves this computational problem. Andy Bremner and Giulia Orioli use measures of infants behaviour and brain function to investigate the development of multisensory perception in early life.
Self-control and mindreading in children
Dr Rory Devine’s research investigates children’s emerging ability to control their own behaviour (or ‘self-control’) and their ability to tune into others’ thoughts and feelings (or ‘mindreading’). Mindreading and self-control are crucial for children’s later success at school and their social lives. In particular, Dr Rory Devine and colleagues are investigating how 2 to 4 year old children’s interactions with parents and caregivers help shape these skills in early childhood. They have created fun and engaging games to understand children’s mindreading and self-control in early childhood. They record parents/caregivers interacting with children and use this footage to learn about what aspects of these interactions help children tune into others’ thoughts and feelings and become better able to control their own behaviour.
Early language development
Dr Andrea Krott and Claudia Zuniga are exploring ways to boost word learning in young children around 17 months of age and to improve word learning in children between the ages 2 and 4 (monolingual English speakers) that do not say as much as other kids their age. Over a series of 9 sessions (30-60 minutes) the children play with toys and watch a few short video clips, while their parents are requested to fill in a couple of questionnaires.
Impact of Prematurity on Social Understanding
Children born prematurely are up to 10 times more likes to be diagnosed with autism in later life. Understanding early differences in social behaviour between children born preterm and their peers is therefore important in informing parents and aiding clinicians in their decision-making. Dr Andrew Surtees and Dr Caroline Richards are using eye-tracking and cleverly-designed play-based tasks to test social attention and social understanding in infants born pre-term and comparing their performance to that of their peers. To this aim, they are recruiting 18-36 month old children born at term and moderate-late preterm (32-36 weeks gestation). For this project, we are excited to be collaborating with clinicians and researchers from Birmingham Women’s Hospital, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham Community Trust, Leeds University and Coventry University and to be supported by the charity Bliss.