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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

What Are Babies Thinking?

Toddlers+cognitive+capacity+tested+using+eye-tracking+technology
Toddler’s cognitive capacity tested using eye-tracking technology

The University of Massachusetts Boston’s Baby Lab celebrates its 10th birthday this year. “We aim to understand how infants perceive the world,” said the lab’s founder, Psychology Professor Zsuzsa Kaldy. The lab is operated by the Psychology department in a division called Developmental and Brain Sciences (DBS). The three faculty members in charge of the program are Dr. Vivian Ciaramitaro, Dr. Mohinish Shukla and Professor Kaldy.
“[The lab is currently conducting studies designed to determine] how infants perceive the world, how they attend to objects, what they can remember after they can’t see the objects anymore and for how long they can remember, and how they learn the rules of language,” said Kaldy.
The studies are designed to focus on specific mental capabilities. There is the Speech Sound Learning study that focuses on determining whether the way adults pronounce a sentence can affect how babies learn to pronounce words. The Word Learning study focuses on whether babies know the difference between different types of words. The Memory study makes use of the classic children’s memory card game to determine the extent of infant’s capacity for memory at different development stages. The Cross-modal Attention study focuses on how hearing sounds at the same time as seeing objects affects attention in infants. The Visual Search study will determine infant’s ability to determine like objects from unlike objects.
A graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison, Baby Lab Manager Annalisa Groth explained how the researchers learn from the infants without being able to give them instructions or ask them direct questions. “We use eye-tracking technology to determine what they are paying the most attention too, from there we can begin to figure out what they are learning,” said Groth. “The infants sit on their mother’s lab and watch a 5-15 minute long video, the video screen records the infant’s eye movements, tracking what the infant is watching and for how long they are watching it.”
In the Memory study infants are shown a set of three cards with different shapes on them. Another set is shown where two of the cards display different shapes and one of the shapes remains the same. If the infant looks at the reoccurring shape they are “rewarded” with an amusing cartoon. Once the infant learns that they are rewarded for looking at the reoccurring shape they begin to seek out the reoccurring shape. The ability to notice reoccurring shapes is an aspect of “visual working memory”, the study suggests that “visual working memory” becomes evident in babies at nine months old.
The over arching goal of studying infants cognitive capacities is to gain a better understanding of cognition in general. Groth pointed out, “Before we can understand why a child is not reaching developmental milestones we first need to learn how typically developing children reach those milestones.”