Current Research

Research in the BabyLab is focused on infant perception and cognition. Below are descriptions of the studies we are currently conducting. If you are interested in participating in any of these studies, please visit the Participate page and complete the online BabyLab Interest Form.

Mental Rotation in Human Infants

Mental rotation is the process by which people imagine how an object would look after it has been rotated into a different orientation in space; taking other people’s perspectives and learning to find one’s way around a new environment are skills that likely depend on this ability. Our current research on the development of mental rotation in infancy seeks to reveal if the sex differences in this ability that are found in adulthood also exist in infancy, before extensive social experiences have contributed to the ways in which boys and girls think. This work will shed light on the development of this vital skill, and could ultimately help facilitate diagnosis and treatment of developmental disorders like dyslexia, and other conditions associated with abnormal spatial cognition. 

Evaluation of Infant Attention using Brainwaves

Our research on infant attention uses an EEG (electroencephalogram) system to study the development of attention in infancy; the goal is to determine if electrical activity in infants’ brains can be used to reveal if they are paying attention to a visual display. Our first study in this series of experiments will explore the relationship between the amplitude of the so-called “steady state visual evoked potential” (also known as SSVEP) and the frequency at which a checkerboard stimulus is seen flickering. Our second study in this series will explore if SSVEPs are subject to habituation (i.e., the process that occurs when an infant gets bored of looking at a familiar stimulus). Our third study will examine the possibility that SSVEPs can reveal so-called “covert” attention, in which infants are actually attending to a stimulus that they are not looking at. A final study will generate SSVEP data on our hypothesis that infants can mentally rotate 3-dimensional objects; this study will investigate if male and female infants differ in their SSVEP-revealed mental rotation abilities, as they do in their behaviorally-revealed mental rotation abilities.

Categorization of Infant-Directed Speech

In almost all of the world’s cultures, adults speak to infants in a distinctive tone of voice, and infants are known to prefer such infant-directed (ID) speech to normal adult-directed speech. The objective of our current research is to explore how pre-verbal infants categorize ID utterances, and to learn how infants’ categories of ID speech change with development. Our data are important because they address the possibility that ID utterances help infants learn about a speaker’s emotional states and intentions; evidence about when infants first categorize ID speech in adult-like ways will help us determine when they finally have the perceptual skills required to understand the meaning of ID speech. In addition to helping us learn a bit more about how infants normally develop communicative competence, these data will be useful in identifying infants at risk for later development of communicative disorders.

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