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Current Research

Psychology students in library

The following projects are currently ongoing in the UEL BabyDevLab:

BLAISE study

Baby Learning and Infant Sensitivity to the Environment

This project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, looks at the different types of home environment that different children experience at home, and examines how this affects a child’s concentration, learning and emotion regulation capacities. Participating in the project involves coming into the UEL BabyDevLab for a half-day lab session, where we will measure your child’s brain activity. We also conduct a one-day home visit, for which a researcher will visit your home in the morning to drop off some specially designed clothing for you and your child to wear! The clothing contains a built-in microphone, and video camera, and a built-in stress monitor. Using it, we will record how your levels of stress in your body, and those of your baby, vary over the course of a typical day.

JDIL Study

Early social word-learning

This project, funded by a H2020 Marie Curie fellowship, looks at dyadic interactions between infants and their caregivers during early word-learning. We know very little about the neural substrates of how information is shared between caregivers and infants during early social learning. The aim of this project is to study how dynamic social interactions support attention and learning during infancy from a dyadic perspective. Participating in the project involves coming into the UEL BabyDevLab for a two hours session, during which we will measure both your brain activity, and your child’s brain activity while you play with toys.

Most infants, and young children, spend the majority of their early waking lives in the company of others. But, for practical reasons, almost everything that we know about how the brain subserves early attention and learning comes from studies that examined brain function in one individual at a time. In this 5-year project, funded by the European Research Council, we will be tracking a series of children longitudinally, and recording joint parent-child brain activity during shared early attention and learning at a variety of different ages.

Childhood anxiety

Early detection and prevention of childhood anxiety

This project, funded by a London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership award, aims to improve our understanding of early development in children at risk of developing anxiety disorders. In particular it looks at how different parenting styles can affect a child’s likelihood of developing anxiety problems. This project is based at the Institute of Psychiatry (King’s College) in collaboration with the UEL BabyDevLab.

Emotion-eliciting stimuli in infancy

Individual differences in the dynamic time course of responses to emotion-eliciting stimuli in infancy: A Longitudinal Study

Difficulty in responding under emotional circumstances (e.g., threatening, frightening or frustrating) is one of the core elements of many mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and emotional difficulties. This study aims to investigate whether there are specific patterns/ milestones in time-related characteristics of the reactions of typically developing infants to continuously changing emotional responses during infancy. If so, we also intend to examine individual differences and age-related changes in these distinct patterns of emotional reactions.

This project is funded by the Republic of Turkey Ministry of National Eduction. It is being run as a collaboration between the Institute of Psychiatry (King’s College) and the UEL BabyDevLab.

Status, stress and attention

Socio-economic status, stress and selective attention

This project looks at how levels of physiological stress vary from one child to another, concentrating on local children growing up in East London. We are looking at whether children from more deprived socio-economic status backgrounds tend to show higher levels of physiological stress. We are also running neuroimaging studies with these children, to look at how stress affects a child’s ability to filter out distracting and irrelevant information.

The project is funded by a UBEL Doctoral Training Partnership award. It is being run as a collaboration between the UEL BabyDevLab and Birkbeck, University of London.

Rett syndrome

Understanding physiological stress and attention in Rett syndrome

Rett syndrome is a rare genetic neurological and developmental disorder that affects the way the brain develops, causing a progressive inability to use muscles for eye and body movements and speech. One of the characteristics of the disorder is that children with the disorder tend to experience quite extreme fluctuations in physiological arousal. This project looks at how these fluctuations affect children's ability to initiate eye movements, and to pay attention to things.

The project is funded by the Rett Syndrome Research Trust, and is run as a collaboration between the UEL BabyDevLab and the Montefiori Medical Centre in New York.

Dynamic social interactions

New insights into how the infant brain subserves dynamic social interactions

Almost everything we know about how attention ‘happens’ in the brain has come from studying individuals in isolation. However, most early attention and cognitive learning takes place in shared contexts, during social interactions with a partner. We know little of the neural mechanisms by which information is shared between babies’ and parents’ brains while they engage in social interaction.

The project is funded by a Research Project Grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

State switching study

Research investigating the development of children’s attention and cognition has focused on measuring optimal performance during laboratory tasks. However, real life does not consist of a series of continuous tasks. Rather, to function effectively, children need to be able to switch between periods of rest or recreational activity to periods of work (i.e. tasks). Adult research suggests that efficient switching between such states involves the ability to regulate a specific a specific brain network - the Default Mode Network (DMN) to allow other brain networks required for tasks get to work. 

Almost nothing is known about the development of state switching in children. In this project, which is a collaboration between the researchers from the department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, King’s College London and the UEL BabyDevLab we are aiming to establish what is the role of DMN in 4-6-year-old children’s ability to switch between recreation and cognitive tasks.

Teenage future thinking study

In everyday life we are often faced with a choice between competing options that differ both in objective value and availability in time. For example, to achieve healthy weight (delayed positive health outcome), I must resist eating a chocolate (small immediate pleasure). Adolescence is one crucial period when young people make important decisions that may have long-lasting impact on their adult life. Research suggests that imaging personally-relevant events or states that might occur in the future, which is called episodic prospection, may help us make better decisions. The benefits of engaging in episodic future thinking are stronger for individuals who usually are more prone to short-sighted behaviour. This highlights the potential importance of episodic prospection in supporting decision-making in adolescence, a period stereotypically perceived as characterized by risk-taking and short-sightedness. In this study, we are trying to find out more about psychological and brain mechanisms that underlie future thinking and decision-making in adolescence. This is a collaborative project between the researchers from the department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (King’s College London) and the UEL BabyDevLab.

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