Infants can do more than we think

16 juni 2010

- Infants have great social competence by the age of six months. They perceive much of their surroundings and can do more than we think, says Professor Claes von Hofsten, who works at Babylab in Uppsala. Here researchers study the connection between the development of the brain and various aspects of children’s early behavioral development.

The more researchers learn about these process, the more we will be able to help children with various functional impairments, such as autism, but we will also be able to develop models for how to stimulate children's development in general.
Coordinating their actions with those of other individuals is the most complex and important task children have to tackle. At Babylab scientists study, for instance, how the areas in the brain that deal with movement relate to the eye movements of an infant, and how other brain activation is linked to the ability to see and plan actions.

- We measure what we can study: eye movements, grasping movements, and brain activities. On this basis we can read a lot, says Claes von Hosten.

The ability to follow an object, such as a ball that moves, with the eye is something children begin to master by the age of about two months. This is almost always done with a combination of eye and head movements. The great challenge is to be able to coordinate these movements, at first the head lags behind. The next big challenge is when the ball disappears behind an object. The trick is to be able to figure out where it might turn up again.

- To be able to predict what is going to happen next is a basic precondition for the baby to be able to coordinate its actions with events in the surrounding world. The fact that this capacity develops so early indicates how important it is, says Claes von Hofsten.

Scientists at the lab are also studying children with autism. These children partially lack the capacity to activate the so-called mirror neuron system in the brain.
- Children with autism have a poor capacity to understand the actions of others, which renders them relatively uninterested in other individuals. With training they can learn to interact socially, but not in the same self-evident manner that typically developed children do.

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The psychological research at Uppsala University follows the individual from infancy through childhood to investigations of the most fundamental psychological mechanisms that underlie our intellectual, emotional, and social abilities.