Testing update

[By Linda]

In this blog post, I thought it would be nice to look back at the past six months. It has been a hectic but fun time. Every day I was lucky enough to work with cute little three-month-old infants. Although there were moments that were not as much fun, such as smelling like baby spit up almost every single day, I really enjoyed the testing period. It was a struggle to find enough three-month-olds for the entire lab, especially since so many of them would end up in my longitudinal study leaving only a few for other studies. We employed several strategies to get new infants to sign up. We planned talks for new parents at several popular locations among new parents. Hoping they would tell all the parents they knew about our study, we even went as far as telling parents how desperate we were and almost begged them to spread the word. In the end, we managed to get quite some infants to the lab. Just before the summer break, we tested infant number 72. This means we managed to get data from 144 testing sessions (pre-intervention and post-intervention measurements).

With only 24 more infants to go (yay!), I hope to finish pre-and-post testing somewhere around mid-September. This is an exciting time for not only me but also my supervisors. We finally get to look at the data and find out if we can really teach these young infants to reach for objects and what this means for their cognitive abilities.

I would like to mention how grateful I am to the parents that were part of our study. Not only did they come to the lab twice, they also completed an intense two-week training at home for us. This was not always easy as most of the infants did not care for the training. We hope that most of these parents will come back for the follow-up assessments that will start early October.

 

On the importance of MOTION

[By Iara de Almeida]

This is July 2019. By now all of us ESR’s have been PhD candidates at our universities for 9 months, we are at the brink of our careers. One foot in, but still rubbing our eyes to make sure it is indeed true. All is new and wonderful. Every setback is a challenge to be conquered. But, when the day ends and the “dragons” of MATLAB or Python or Experimental Design are put down and work to our advantage, who are we but just a couple of young adults – kids, let’s face it – trying to make it in Research. This idea of balance has troubled me since the start.

I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the time taken to settle has passed. We have all gotten roots, a friend circle, a work rhythm, a planned week, a shop we enjoy better on Saturdays, a class we always go to on Tuesdays because we enjoy that particular gym teacher. We go to bed at a time, we wake up at another, and eventually… We choose life. Choose a job, choose a career, choose a big tv, choose washing machines, cars… dental insurance…

We tend to feel better in these patterns, enjoy the comfort of a controlled schedule. And yet, entropy does tend to inevitably increase. When things disrupt our path, may it be a deadline, a tough data to analyse, a protocol that won’t want to be followed… they introduce unwanted variability in our lives. Suddenly it’s not all organized. As a matter of fact, PhD life can certainly accelerate chaos from 0 to 100 in a second, and in those moments, they tell us it is very important to stay grounded, cool and try to maintain some balance. There’s that word again.

Balance.

I guess we all have our own definition towards it, but in my mind I can’t get over the fact that having a routine, as comfortable as it may be, hurts me in the long run. Creates a systematic signal that, when occasionally disrupted, causes distress in the system. Wouldn’t it be better to, voluntarily, work in some variability in our lives? Throw ourselves onto the unknown, out of our comfort zone. Go to a gathering without knowing anyone. Start classes in a language we don’t know. Take an impromptu trip to see a friend. Do things that make no logic in order to, logically, introduce chance into our rhythms. Spark creativity. Open our minds to new realities.

There’s this new song by an artist I’m fond of – might have heard of Salvador Sobral, he won Eurovision a couple years ago – called Anda Estragar-me os Planos, literally, Come ruin my plans and that’s the challenge to all my MOTION colleagues – and anyone else for that matter – this month. Do something out of the ordinary. Apply MOTION into your lives. And then… tell me how it went. I need subjects for this hypothesis!

We are the stories that we tell ourselves, let’s write good ones – and also good papers if it isn’t too much to ask!

How to make a fussy eater (or not)

[by Aude Carteron]

Do you also find yourself surprised when meeting someone who hates tomatoes or chocolate, and then shrug it off with a ‘well, that’s rare but there’s no accounting for taste’? Some weeks ago I decided to put on an apron and… use my favourite search engine to figure out ‘What makes us like… what we like’, and how it sheds light on why some parenting advice works better than other.

  1. Start from an innate base

Typical response of newborns to sweet and bitter tastes. Adapted from Ganchrow, Steiner, and Daher, cited in [1]
On the following pictures, this newborn baby is the not-so-lucky subject of an experiment to check our innate preferencesi: while they seem to reject the bitter taste, they may have a sweet tooth given their sucking reaction (as if saying ‘I want more’).

Why might that be? In nature, sweet flavour is reliably present in harmless and energy-dense aliments such as fruits, while bitter food is more likely to be poisonous food (and sour, spoiled food). That’s why it makes sense, from an evolutionary perspectiveii, to find those strong preferences (towards sweetness over bitterness) at birth and early on: they have been selected through evolution so that children will spontaneously choose nutritious food and keep safe from risky foodiii.

 

  1. Add in some heritable variations

Although we are all born with similar attitudes towards sweet or bitter tastes, some preferences are running in families [1]. For example, a specific gene dictates the shape of a protein in your taste cells, which in turn tells if you will be rather indifferent to bitterness, or very sensitive- even later in life (in which case Brussel sprouts will never be your friends).

Preferences for smells also modulates what food you find nice, and this again can be inherited. For example, how much you like the smell of cinnamon is quite well transmitted across generations [1] (which may be why adding or omitting cinnamon in Mum’s apple pies will never be a matter in your family debate!)

Read moreHow to make a fussy eater (or not)

What happens when you look into your baby’s eyes?

[By Sayaka Fujita]

If you have spent time with a young baby, you probably know how babies are good at “staring”. When your baby looks into your eyes, you would probably look straight back into your baby’s eyes, smiling – making direct eye contact with them. Have you ever wondered – why they stare at you so much, and what happens in your baby’s brain when you look into your baby’s eyes?

 

Why do they look into your eyes?

Eyes are “eye-catching” even for newborns. At an average age of 36 hours, newborns were shown to look at a face with open eyes longer than a face with closed eyes [i]. Even more striking for babies is eyes which are directed straight to them. From birth, your baby will look at you more often and longer if you look directly into their eyes[ii]. This may explain why babies are so good at looking into people’s eyes – they naturally get “attracted” to eyes, especially when they are directed to them.

Read moreWhat happens when you look into your baby’s eyes?

Relocating and Adjusting to a New City

[By Victoria Licht]

In this blog series we have heard from almost all the ESRs, talking about the challenges we encountered in our research and the progress we have made the last 7 months.  While all of us have moved from different countries to be at our present university, some of us have had minimal problems adjusting to our new city and others like myself needed some time to get use to our new home.  I am originally from Germany, grew up in Southern California, and eventually moved back to Germany. I finished my bachelors in California and then went to Germany for my Master’s degree, I really considered myself a chameleon of being able to adjust to new surroundings. I have traveled to many place in Europe and went to South America for six weeks, I convinced myself I was able to make a home anywhere.

Read moreRelocating and Adjusting to a New City

Developing collaborations between academia and industry

[By Chiara Capparini]

As you may already know, the MOTION network is made up by a diverse team of experts and early stage researchers mixing both academic and industrial expertise. In this blog post, I am going to discuss with you my really fresh experience developing collaboration between my host University, Lancaster University, and an industrial partner, Smart Eye.

First of all, let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Chiara and I am originally from the beautiful Lake Como, Italy. I obtained my Master’s degree in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC), University of Trento, Italy. I was lucky to join the MOTION network as an Early Stage Researcher at Lancaster University, moving from that branch of the lake which inspired the Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni to the Lake District which inspired many, let me just mention Beatrix Potter (since our interest lies in infancy and childhood!). Here, apart from a nice and quiet town surrounded by placid parks and lakes, I found an amazing Babylab waiting for me, with a very welcoming environment full of great researchers, a lot of equipment and many nice families willing to be involved.

What I am researching on is how babies process social information in their environment. Thus far, most of the research relied on simplified two-dimensional images presented centrally on computer displays. Since in reality only a minority of the visual information is restricted within the central and parafoveal visual fields, my first steps into this research project aim to understand what visual information infants can process and perceive at peripheral locations.

Read moreDeveloping collaborations between academia and industry

Collaboration between Smart Eye and Lancaster University

[By Clément Dardenne]

In the last couple of months, I worked on the development of a new version of our eye tracking software, adapted to the head morphology and eyes anatomy of infants (6 months – 3 years old).

In order to validate the new algorithms, the feedbacks of researchers involved in infant studies are primordial. On top of that, we need to enhance the size of our database (i.e. infant recordings), to keep improving our algorithms. The best way to achieve these goals is to provide a Smart Eye system to partners Babylab in the MOTION project, to see if it’s meeting the researchers expectations, and also because they have the possibility to involve a lot of infants in their studies.

That’s why Smart Eye decided to lend for free one of its systems for a period of 6 months to Lancaster University Babylab. The system is composed of 3 cameras and is accompanied of an Alpha version of a software adapted to infants. The system will be used to carry out a study on peripheral vision on 6 months old infants.

Read moreCollaboration between Smart Eye and Lancaster University

On the Intersection of Two Companions for Ecological Validity: Research and Industry

[By Umay Şen]

The second meeting of Motion Network (Mobile Technology for Infant Social-Cognitive Neuroscience: Interdisciplinary Training Network for Innovating Infancy Research) took place in Oldenzaal, Netherlands. In this meeting, there were various workshops regarding the interaction of research and industry. As the early stage researchers of the network, we have strong connections with both industry and academia. This provides the opportunity to get involved with them both now and also in future.  Although, most of us do not have concrete career plans after PhD, we are questioning the possibilities of staying in academia/industry or changing our tracks from one to the other. To make decisions about future, is an effortful and delicate process. In this blog post, I am going to discuss about the research environments in academia and industry and also how they are similar and different with a little bit of my own perspective as a PhD student who is planning to pursue an academic career.

In the Motion Network, we have direct access to a community consisting of international and qualified researchers who have experience in both academia and industry. Furthermore, we have collaborations with researchers, practitioners and people from companies who have different specializations. Being a part of Marie Curie Network is providing us the excellent opportunity to be involved in all these different disciplines, exchange of knowledge and to integrate different skills sets.

Read moreOn the Intersection of Two Companions for Ecological Validity: Research and Industry

How are we doing? Our mid-term check

[By Joanna Rutkowska]

This month TMSi kindly ho  sted our project check meeting and the third training school in Oldenzaal, the Netherlands. We got off to a shaky start with all of our early stage researchers (ESRs) and their supervisors (principal investigators, PIs) coming from outside the Netherlands stranded at Schiphol Aiport and arriving to our location late in the evening before the first scheduled day. Fortunately, the next day we did not have our project check meeting yet, or else the Research Executive Agency (REA) Project Officer would be greeted by a group of sleep-deprived and exhausted individuals (or maybe that short description fits all of the scientific researchers anyway?).

MOTION is an Innovating Training Network (ITN) that is a part of H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions funded by the European Commission. Our name, MOTION, is an abbreviation of the full name of our network: Mobile Technology for Infant Social-Cognitive Neuroscience: Interdisciplinary Training Network for Innovating Infancy Research. As you can see, it would be too hard to use the full name in a sentence! On our website you can also familiarise yourself with the goals of each of the ESRs involved.

Read moreHow are we doing? Our mid-term check

Questions, possible solutions and more

[By Valentina Barone]

What am I doing here? What is the purpose of my job? Is it really necessary – to someone else or at least to myself?

These questions have been raised by human beings for a sustained amount of time, and you are probably wondering yourself the same from time to time, even if you have just started your long way into the labour market. This happens also to myself, to my-new-self in the role of an early stage researcher for the MOTION Project. With a background in Psychology, Communication and Cognitive Neuroscience it sounds probably normal to hear that I belong to that kind of people who question everything. It is often an annoying habit, but it can be useful as well. The latter was, indeed, the case during the training school at Radboud University in Nijmegen, where my colleagues and I had the occasion to collect some practical answers to those tricky questions.

Still filled with our Christmas meals and relatives’ stories, we met up at the beginning of January for a 4 days-long full immersion into the intricate world of ‘’Infant&Child Development’’.

After a couple of days of well-prepared lectures and active discussions (see Tommaso’s post to find out all the stimulating activities of the Nijmegen training school),

we attended a workshop provided by two experts from Karel de Grote Hogeschool Antwerp – Centre of expertise for pedagogical support in childcare and school. ‘’Starting the dialogue between basic science and practitioners” was an intensive workshop provided by Monique van Boom and Lynn Mampuys, but mostly it was a great introduction into the world where research can meet practical daily applications. This was so remarkable for us, since it is something a researcher does not focus on that often: we all know that experimental processes require a huge amount of time-consuming activities, which more often have their main goal in a successful publication and a worldwide recognition. But what about transposing those results into practice? What about seeing years of behind-the-desk-knowledge transformed into actual pedagogical rules or exercises?

Read moreQuestions, possible solutions and more