How far in their periphery can babies see?

[by Chiara Capparini]

When thinking about vision, we often refer to central vision, which offers the most spatial resolution and visual acuity. Conversely, our visual field can extend to over 90-100° and we receive a considerable amount of visual inputs from peripheral locations [1]. I know, information coming from the edge of the visual field is not as detailed as what we get from central vision, but many everyday activities – such as driving, navigating the environment, detecting a threat, or even dancing – would be highly impaired without peripheral vision.

And what about infants? Shall we assume that infants’ visual field is comparable to ours? Interestingly, human newborns prefer to orient towards peripheral locations [2]. Nonetheless, research has shown that peripheral vision seems to be progressively developing during the first postnatal year of life [3].

To test this, we recorded the behaviour of a group of 9-month-olds who viewed sequences made of a central stimulus followed by a peripheral patch appearing at a random location from 35˚ to 60˚ to the left or the right of the central stimulus. We measured head and eyes orientations to peripheral targets at different locations to understand whether infants could reliably perceive the target or not. We also tested a control group of adults on a similar task. This time, we asked participants to press a key to indicate left or right detection.

We found that babies’ peripheral vision is still developing at nine months of age. Infant performance was unequal across peripheral locations and it was hard for babies to perceive something appearing beyond 50˚. In contrast, adult performance was optimal across all the investigated locations [4].

What does this study tell us? Infants do not have the same visual field that we have. Nevertheless, their visual field is already wide and many everyday activities can benefit from it. For instance, this can help babies to actively gather more information from the surrounding space, improve balance and achieve new motor milestones.

 

Reference
 [1] To, M. P. S., Regan, B. C., Wood, D., & Mollon, J. D. (2011). Vision out of the corner of the eye. Vision Research51(1), 203-214.
[2] Johnson, M., & De Haan, M. (2015). Vision, orienting, and attention. In Developmental cognitive neuroscience: An introduction (pp. 83-109). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
[3] Maurer, D., & Lewis, T. L. (1991). The development of peripheral vision and its physiological underpinnings. In M. J. S. Weiss & P. R. Zelazo (Eds.), Newborn attention: Biological constraints and the influence of experience (pp. 218–255). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
[4] Capparini, C., To, M., & Reid, V. (2020, July 6-9). Exploring infants’ sensitivity to low-level visual information across the visual field [Poster session]. International Congress of Infant Studies, Glasgow, UK.

Photo reference
Photo by Rasmus Svinding from Pexels

Our second online training school

[By: Joanna Rutkowska]

As the MOTION ESRs, we are receiving the best training our PIs can provide for us. With the pandemic still going on, we have to resort to having our training schools online. Last months’ training school was organised by the University of London Birkbeck and took place mostly on Zoom.

We kicked off the school with presentations from every ESR. This is a second official opportunity we got to present our research to other ESRs and PIs from MOTION, the first opportunity being at our mid-term check. Everyone seemed very well prepared and confident when presenting, even though often you could see the research has been stopped, delayed or changed entirely due to the COVID-19 situation. Some of the ESRs, myself included, switched to conducting experiments online. Even with the little room the coronavirus left us, we are trying to be as flexible as we can with our work.

Following the presentation day, we had several days of workshops on communicating science and on the computational modelling. Although it would be impossible for me to delve into every workshop in detail in this short blog post, I will try to give you an overview of the covered topics. Two workshops focused specifically on communicating science within academia were: “Writing an effective grant proposal” and “An editor’s view of the journal submission process”. As most of us are now in the process of writing up our scientific papers and/or submitting them to different peer reviewed journals, these workshops came with perfect timing. What’s more, we will soon have to search for post doc jobs where we might need to secure our own funding, so it was great to have the introduction into the grant writing. The following two workshops were more business- and professional-related, as they were on speaking to the media and speaking to business. In both cases, it was the first time any of us considered what communicating our science to these audiences might entail, so it was very beneficial for all of us. The communicating science part of the training school was concluded by the workshops on speaking to government and translating basic science to practise. These might have been the workshops that made the biggest impact on some of our ESRs, as they are aspiring to make a change in a society with their research in the future. It was very inspiring and empowering to hear from people who have achieved such a thing themselves.

The second part of the training school was taken by computational modelling. We started with an extensive overview of the topic of connectionist modelling and then we moved on to trying connectionist models out ourselves in Python. It was a great opportunity for those of us who have not done modelling work before to get acquainted with the topic. We finished up the training school with workshops on recent developments in the area, modelling developmental disorders, and learning about model fitting and model evaluation. The amount of knowledge our workshop leaders managed to cram into such a short period of time was impressive. We also received more materials so we could explore the topic more ourselves after the training school.

Overall, this training school heavily focused on training our communication and computational modelling skills. This was a great opportunity to learn many new things that are extremely useful for those ESRs planning to stay in academia, as well as for the ones planning to go into the industry.

How subtle characteristics of our language can shape children’s social perception

[By: Lisanne Schröer]

Most of us are cautious with our language in front of toddlers and young children. We don’t want to risk that the child will imitate our offensive words. However, there are more reasons to be careful with language around young children. Recently, scientists have found evidence that more subtle characteristics of our language influence how children see themselves and the social world around them.

“Let’s be a scientist!” or “Let’s do science!”

Imagine you are a teacher who wants to motivate young children in a science class. Perhaps you try to persuade the children by saying something like “Let’s be a scientist today!” However, recent studies have shown that this identity-focused language (i.e. language focused on the identity of being a scientist) has exactly the opposite effect. In contrast, it was also found that when teachers change their identity-focused language (“Let’s be a scientist”) to action-focused language (“Let’s do science”), this improves children’s interest and persistence in science even three days later [1].

Language in terms of actions (“Let’s do science!”) instead of identities (“Let’s be scientists!”) also improved the persistence of especially girls in a science game [2]. Thus, subtle language components can help to reduce gender differences in science interest and participation among young children, and help reduce gender stereotypes. These gender stereotypes may cause girls to see themselves as not fit in the scientist category, resulting in fewer girls picking science as a career compared to boys [3].

Do all Zarpies eat flowers?

Another aspect of language that can shape children’s perception of social categories and groups is generic language, the language that refers to abstract categories. For instance, based on the generic statement “Swans are white”, you would expect that “swans” is a category consisting of white animals, and that there are no black, green, or blue swans.

To investigate the effects of this generic language on children’s perception of social categories, researchers introduced children to a fictional group of people called “Zarpies”. Zarpies were very diverse in appearance. Children were shown a picture of a Zarpie accompanied by a statement that was either generic (“Zarpies eat flowers”), or specific (“This Zarpie eats flowers”). Children who heard the Zarpies described in generic statements were more likely to view the particular characteristic of one Zarpie as a fundamental characteristic of the Zarpies group (also called social essentialism) [4]. These beliefs that social categories mark fundamentally distinct kind of people facilitate social stereotypes [4], for example that girls are bad at science.

Conclusion

We generally don’t think about how these specific aspects of our language influence our children’s behaviour and perception. However, recent research has shown that our way of phrasing things does influence young children. Perhaps by being more cautious with our language we can decrease the forming of rigid social categories about gender, race, identity and ethnicity in young children. After all, girls can be scientists and not all Zarpies eat flowers, and children should know this.

 

Reference

[1]: Rhodes, M., Cardarelli, A., & Leslie, S.-J. (2020). Asking young children to “do science” instead of “be scientists” increases science engagement in a randomized field experiment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 117(18). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1919646117

[2]: Rhodes, M., Leslie, S.-J., Yee, K.M., & Saunders, K. (2019). Subtle linguistic cues increases girls’ engagement in science. Psychological Science, 30(3), 455-466. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618823670

[3]: Nosek, B.A., Smyth, F.L., Sriram, N., Lindner, N.M., Devos, T., Ayala, A., … Greenwald, A.G. (2009). National differences in gender-science stereotypes predict national sex differences in science and math achievement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 10593-10597. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0809921106

[4]: Rhodes, M., Leslie, S.-J., Tworek, C.M. (2012). Cultural transmission of social essentialism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 109(34), 13526-15351. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1208951109

Photo references

Photo 1: Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels
Photo 2: Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina from Pexels

Baby summer read for grown-ups

[By: Aude Carteron]

Summer wouldn’t be summer without book recommendations, and I wanted to tell you about the refreshing vacation read brought to you by ‘The Laughing Baby’ by Caspar Addyman. Perfect when paired with a deckchair and total sunblock.

You come for the catchy title, you stay for the entertainment of enthralling topics written in a captivating and fluid style. Add to this Caspar’s highly contagious enthusiasm for his field. If the heat is keeping you away from your summer workout goals, the book will at least exercise your cheek muscles through its wit as well as its up-lifting and moving messages.

I haven’t read many science books that strike the right balance between scientific richness with appropriate amount of references, and accessible style of writing, skipping tortuous details that only researchers would care about. This book highlights key debates that exists for long in the field of developmental psychology, such as what is innate and what is learnt, as well as presents opposing views in a balanced way. You even get to understand some applications of computational modelling.

Are you a parent?
I can imagine you will not only relate to the topics but also get to think about your everyday interactions with your baby from a new perspective. As the first chapter clarifies, it is not a book on parenting advice, but I am convinced you will get insights into baby science that could make your life with your baby even more delightful.

Not lucky enough to have a nephew baby around to visit and match the findings to your own observations?
You will enjoy it just as much, as the scope of the book broadens to human nature in general.

Are you a psych student?
Reading the Laughing Baby won’t feel like studying, yet you will learn so much.

 Are you already an expert in the field?
The link that Caspar establishes between key concepts in developmental psychology and laughter will not fail to make you see things from a different perspective.

As every great book, it comes with personal anecdotes. Caspar has a remarkable number of exciting adventures to share with us including stories about his interactions with eminent researchers in the field. Special shoutout to our own Denis with this quote: “I vividly remember being taught in Denis Mareschal’s undergraduate class that you could leave a newborn baby dangling by its own grip from a washing line if you wanted. I have yet to meet anyone who has tried this and I don’t recommend it.” (I don’t want to spoil more contents but hope this will pique your curiosity).

Finally, societal implications of developmental findings aren’t ignored, with mentions to works highlighting the benefits for children of public investment in quality day care.

I only regret that among the fascinating digressions beyond babies, there weren’t comments about the emergence of children’s humour understanding and production abilities later in development. To be fair, it’s probably too much to fit in one book (let’s hope for a part 2!)

Babbling more about this beautiful book would only delay what you ought to be doing now: get The Laughing baby if you haven’t got a copy yet. If you are still hesitant, maybe try a free sample. While you are waiting for your copy to arrive, Penny wrote an excellent primer on babies’ humour right on this MOTION blog. Caspar also gave a fascinating TEDx talk. And last but not least, he hasn’t paid me to write this blog!

 

Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash.

Do babies know if you are a helpful person? Here’s what we found.

[By: Sayaka Kidby]

You may have heard the phrase that babies are little scientists or active learners. They seem to be dependent upon other people in so many ways; they need to be fed, they need to be moved (before they start crawling) and they need to be soothed when they get upset. But at the same time, they have this remarkable ability to learn an incredible amount by looking around the world and hearing other people.

What is impressive is that they do not seem to simply take in everything they see or hear [1]. Previous research has shown that babies and toddlers can choose whom to learn from. For example, copying other people’s behaviour (imitation) is an important way of learning for little ones. They only imitate actions of those who previously performed it competently and confidently, but not actions of those who seemed uncertain about what they were doing [1,2].

Much less is known about whether this selective learning occurs in much younger babies, whose motor skills are still limited.

Read moreDo babies know if you are a helpful person? Here’s what we found.

Home (not) alone – how did children deal with quarantine?

[By: Penny Bounia-Mastrogianni] 

For some of us MOTION early-stage researchers, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was accompanied by moving back to our home countries in a rush and under great uncertainty. I decided to return to Greece and to my family, where, by interacting with my very young sister and other families with children, I realized how many children and adolescents probably had a much harder time mentally coping with the situation than us adults. So I decided to write some thoughts on this challenging reality that many parents and caregivers faced and keep facing.

Read moreHome (not) alone – how did children deal with quarantine?

On the importance of speaking the language of the country you live in

[By: Valentina Barone]

When we decided to become a part of the MOTION Project, it was clear to all of us we would move from our own country. We knew we were leaving there our families, our friends, our favourite food, our MOTHER TONGUE.

From my point of view, the first elements were the ones I was worried about: how much I would miss my mom, my grandma’s pasta, having “aperitivo” with my friends. The idea of living in a country of which I couldn’t understand the official language was almost completely ignored by the naive Valentina I was in the Autumn of 2018.

I thought it was something completely normal, something not that relevant, that could have been overcome without difficulties. Many people I know emigrate to countries where the language spoken doesn’t even share a word with their own mother tongue. How could that possibly have been tough for me, moving to the Netherlands, a country where the language has so many common elements with my beloved Italian? Well, it turned out I was mostly wrong about it.

Read moreOn the importance of speaking the language of the country you live in

The science of Duplo: How blocks can help us understand action planning in young children.

[By: Lisanne Schröer]

Duplo or Lego blocks may have been one of your favourite toys when you were younger. A couple of blocks could create a castle, rocket or boat, with just your imagination as limit to your creations. But these fun blocks can also be very useful for research purposes. For example, Duplo construction blocks can provide us with the ideal way to investigate action planning while keeping our cute little participants entertained.

Read moreThe science of Duplo: How blocks can help us understand action planning in young children.