What is MOTION – Who are we?

[By: Sayaka Kidby]

There were two groups of American infants. A native Chinese speaker spoke to the first group in person and spoke to the second group via a TV screen. Then Psychologists tested the babies’ understanding of Chinese phonetics – and the result was fascinating.

Only infants who had a face-to-face live interaction with the speaker learned the phonetics of Chinese, whereas the other group of infants, who only saw a woman through screen, did not (Kuhl, Tsao, & Liu, 2003).

I was genuinely intrigued by this study. How strong the power of social interaction for human learning and development can be!

Agree? Then, you’re in the right place.

We are a group of Psychologists, Engineers and Programmers working in locations spread across Europe (originating from within and even beyond Europe, like myself!), curious about what we learn from day-to-day interaction with others, and how it affects human development and well-being. More specifically, we’re interested in how babies learn and develop through everyday interaction with others (the cutest creature in the entire universe…).

And here, in this blog, we will be posting what we do, what we have found, and how our research may be able to improve lives of babies and families.

What is unique about us as a group is that we try to develop and use testing systems that will allow us to investigate young children’s knowledge and understanding while they are freely moving around. Our current understanding about infant development has been mostly based on experimental settings, where infants sit in front of a screen presenting artificial stimuli. Such research is important for us to better understand what may result in what etc., but these experimental situations could be quite different from our actual everyday experience.

It would be of critical importance for us to study about infant development using as naturalistic settings as possible. Especially relevant might be their behaviour and/or motor development which may affect infants’ thinking processes. A growing body of research has found that motor experience can influence infants’ cognitive processing (e.g. Reid, Kaduk, & Lunn, 2017). For example, Reid and colleagues (i.e. my supervisor and colleagues!) have found that 10-week-old infants who had experienced “walking” (in a bathtub with a support of parents) showed different brain activity when shown human’s walking motion displayed on a screen from those who hadn’t “walked”. This indicates that infants’ action production and infants’ action perception might be closely intertwined.

So, as a “MOTION” project team, we aim to better understand how our cognition (i.e. what we know and how we think) might be developed through “motion” in the very first stage of life, using the latest research technologies (which are developed by our amazing engineers and programmers!).

Watch this space if you are interested in infants’ cognition and its development, how our motion shapes our mind, or anything related to babies J

By the way, I’m Saya, an early stage researcher (ESR) involved in this network from Lancaster University in the UK, working with Professor Vincent Reid and Dr Kirsty Dunn. I am originally from Japan, and obtained my undergraduate and first master’s degree in clinical psychology in Tokyo. After working as a teacher for two and a half years, I moved to Cambridge, UK to do my second master’s degree in Education and Psychology. And now, I am here in Lancaster!

(Me trying to speak “Swan”…)

(Lancaster is near the famous Lake District in the UK… definitely worth a visit!)

I am interested in how our brains can interact with each other during social interaction, and how such brain interactions may have an effect on our learning from and about others. But I will save the topic for my next blog!

The next post will be from Aude at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is very good at expressing her own views, while she is open to other people’s opinions as well. We have had a great time getting to know each other not only in the lab and classroom but during a trip to an Irish pub in Sweden.

(“networking” at the pub)

Why in Sweden? The answer will be in her blog! Stay tuned!


Kuhl, P. K., Tsao, F.-M., & Liu, H.-M. (2003). Foreign-language experience in infancy: Effects of short-term exposure and social interaction on phonetic learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1532872100

Reid, V. M., Kaduk, K., & Lunn, J. (2017). Links between action perception and action production in 10-week-old infants. Neuropsychologia. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.NEUROPSYCHOLOGIA.2017.11.005