Current Studies

These studies are the projects that are open for family participation in the Baby Learning Lab. Below are brief descriptions of each study to help give those interested an insight into what our research is currently focused in. Please refer to our Publications page to see recent and past studies. 

FNIRS during an infant’s naturalistic experiences (aka Exploration)

In this study, we use fNIRS recordings to investigate the neural components of naturalistic play in infants 4 months to 2 years old. We measure infants’ brain activity while they play with two toy types: those that are familiar to the infant, and those that are novel. We examine correlations between brain activity when infants are playing with the two different toy types, and explore neural activity during different events (i.e., when the baby is vocalizing, or looking at a particular object) during play. We know that play is an essential avenue of infant learning, and therefore infant development, however less is known about the neural underpinnings of infant learning during free play. Most research exploring infant learning through play utilize controlled experiments, which inherently limit the active role an infant holds in exploring and shaping their learning environment. In this study, we aim to examine infants’ neural responses during play in an infant-directed, naturalistic environment. The goal of this exploratory study is to provide insights into the neural components of naturalistic play during early development.
We aim to investigate the following questions:
1. What occurs in the infant brain during a naturalistic play session?
2. How do these neural responses change during object exploration – in particular, when the infant is playing with a familiar toy vs. a novel toy?

Lead Researcher: N/A
Research Assistants (as of April 2024): Jaimie Muller, Catalina Shen, Zein Hedayati, Rowah Gheriani, Zainab Zeyan, Dora Chan, Isabella Maudsley, Marina Wang, Labella Li, Mya Froese, Dixie Santa, Devina Singh, Aisha Sabry Ahmed

Translation of short-term changes in infant perception into long-term developmental changes (aka Sprinkles)

In this study, the project consists of three eye-tracking and neuroimaging studies where 6- to 8-month-olds undergo training to learn that particular pictures and sounds predict the direction of motion of colourful dots. We first use eye-tracking to replicate a previous study that showed that the brief training alters motion perception. We then expand the findings to investigate what training experiences are necessary to make the change in perception persist across five weeks with the same infants. We then use neuroimaging to measure what neural mechanisms support this prolonged change in motion perception. Past work has shown that infants can quickly and flexibly adjust their perceptual systems as a result of their experiences. Work from Dr. Emberson’s team has recently shown that briefly training infants to learn that particular audio-visual cues will predict one direction of motion (leftward or rightward) of colourful dots is enough to alter their motion perception short-term. Motion triggers smooth pursuit eye movements, which are specialized, involuntary eye movements that track motion at its direction and speed, providing us with a measure of motion perception. The change in motion perception will be demonstrated by seeing if the audio-visual cue is sufficient to produce motion perception. The goal of the project is to (1) replicate previous findings from our team that learning triggers short-term change in motion perception, (2) investigate what experiences are necessary to make flexible, short-term changes in perception persist for extended periods in infants and (3) use functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure which neural mechanisms support this change.

Lead Researcher: Zahra Abolghasem
Research Assistants (as of April 2024): Fengting Yan, Irene Feng, Kyler Cyna Pressman, Elisa Sierra, Jotpreet Randhawa, Sahar Remtula

Examining infants neural correlates of the social brain (aka SoCoLoCo)

In this study, we use fNIRS recordings to investigate the social brain network in 4- to 24-month-old infants. Infants’ brain responses are measured while they watch different social and non-social videos of people and geometric shapes in two conditions. In the human-agent condition, infants will watch four individual and four interactive human actions and eight toys moving with a motion matched to the movements of the human condition. In the artificial-agent condition, infants will watch eight actions performed by artificial agents (i.e., geometric shapes) and eight matched animated actions. We hope to determine the brain regions involved in infants’ observations of social stimuli versus careful perceptual controls. The goal of this study is to localize the social network in the young infant brain via an infant-friendly task to elicit social perception. The localization of infants’ social brain network will allow us to further investigate humans’ social understanding early in development in different contexts, including: social actions performed by artificial agents (i.e., geometric shapes without eyes and mouth) versus human agents; social actions with positive and negative valence; and social actions performed individually or interactively between people.
We aim to investigate the following questions: (1) what regions in the infant brain coordinate the processing of social events (i.e., what regions comprise the ‘social network’ of the infant brain)? and (2) how are these regions activated differentially in different social contexts?

Lead Researcher: Zohreh Soleimani
Research Assistants (as of April 2024): Kimia Kolivand, Maddy Antecol, Victoria Hong, Madhavi Shrimali

Development of large-scale neural networks during first years of life (aka Tiny Sparks)

In this study, we use fNIRS recordings to investigate the emergence of the fronto-parietal network in 8-month-old infants, examining the connectivity of different brain networks. We recruit a group of 8-month-old infants who will participate in the study for two visits: once to engage in a learning task and the other time for a resting state task. For both visits, we measure infant brain activity while infants watch one of the two videos. We examine correlations between brain activities. The goal of this study is to provide insights into the emergence of specialized neural networks in early infancy (8 months). To do this, we will look at the relations between brain activity during rest and during learning for 8-month-olds. These findings will (1) advance our understanding of the emergence of the fronto-parietal network at the very beginning of life, (2) advance our understanding of how the anatomy of the brain (measured with resting-state activity) informs the development of connections across the brain when infants are engaged in cognitive tasks, and vice versa, and (3) allow us to determine the generalizability of our predictive task to infants of 8-month old.
We aim to investigate the following question: What are the interrelations between task-based and resting-state connectivity at the age of 8 months?

Lead Researcher: Jingyun Zhu
Research Assistants (as of April 2024): Vaidehi Asawa, Kira Burke, Timothy Cheng, Yasmeen Al-Ghoul