Why we want to research baby brains?

[By: Sayaka Kidby]

In my last blog post, I wrote about the difficulties of collecting good brain data from babies. It is a challenge, so you may have been thinking, why bother at all?

Some people say babies are boring – they look like doing nothing other than staring (and crying, sleeping and being fed). For me, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Babies are always looking, listening and learning. In short, there is always something going on in their brain. We collect brain data to find out exactly what is happening. And it is useful because:

  1. Sometimes what they know and/or think is not obvious from their behaviour.

In 2008, researchers showed that if we make eye contact with babies as young as 5 months old, then it helps with their learning [1]. That is, if you look at something together with your baby, they pay more attention to it, and possibly remember it better. It wasn’t a baby’s behaviour which taught this to us – we could only find it out from analysing the brain.

  1. The brain does so much in a very short time – so it has a lot to tell.

Brain rhythm is very fast, so even during a very short time, it can do a lot of things.

In Lancaster Babylab, we measure brain activities as brain waves. We group waves according to the speed – and one of the fastest waves, gamma waves, goes as fast as your car engine, which is too fast for us to hear as separate beats and would normally be heard as a continuous hum.

That’s how fast your brain – and your baby’s brain – can work. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?

  1. The plasticity of young brains is incredible – infant brain is where it all begins.

Have you heard of the word “neuroplasticity”? At birth, your baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons with 2500 synapses, which connect neurons. When your baby celebrates their second or third birthday, the number of synapses per neuron increases to about 15,000 as they explore and learn about the world as well as develop various skills [2]. Synapses play an incredibly important role in learning because their job is to transfer information from one neuron to another, and then connect one brain area to another. This information transmission supports our emotions, thoughts and behaviour.

Studying baby brains has a potential of uncovering how we become us, which I believe is one of the biggest reasons why we researchers are so fascinated by baby brains, even though, as I wrote in my last blog post, it is very difficult to study.

 

 

 

If you’re interested in this topic-

TED talks;

– Playlist “The Genius of Babies

– TED talk by Professor Rebecca Saxe at MIT, talking about baby brain research (using fMRI not EEG)

Web articles;

– About Neuroplasticity

What is brain plasticity and why is it so important?

– General articles from baby brain scientists

What Is Going on in Babies’ Brains When They Learn to Do Something?

 

 

Reference

[1] Parise, E., Reid, V. M., Stets, M., & Striano, T. (2008). Direct eye contact influences the neural processing of objects in 5-month-old infants. Social Neuroscience3(2), 141-150. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470910701865458

[2] Banks, D. (2016, April 4). What is brain plasticity and why is it so important? Retrieved December 27, 2019, from https://theconversation.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-and-why-is-it-so-important-55967.

The photo is from Lancaster Babylab.