5 examples of infant studies

5 examples of infant studies

Posted by Jacqueline Martinali on Tue 09 Jun. 2020 - 5 minute read

A lot happens in the development of a child and many factors play an important role in this process. For example the interaction with parents, siblings, and peers, but also various complex processes in the brain that determine how a child processes information, how well it can concentrate, and how the child behaves towards others. The learning abilities and behaviors are extremely important for the way infants develop.

Throughout development, a child reaches several milestones, recognizable points in the child's development. An important first milestone in social development is the social smile, which is the smile that a baby gives in response to another. It shows that an infant is a social creature right from the beginning of his or her life. You have probably seen it, such a cute smile that makes you melt…

How do infants develop? 

Researchers perform infant studies to properly monitor and understand all these development factors. Many questions can be studied, such as:

  • How do infants develop the ability to control their arms and legs, and how do they use their motor skills?
  • Is there a difference between genders in motor development related to parent’s promotion of play?
  • What are the differences in development between typical developing infants and infants with a developmental delay?
  • How do parents and infants interact when the infant is in pain?
  • How do siblings influence each other and how do they socially interact?

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Infancy research: 5 examples of infant studies

It is fair to say that collecting data with infants can be difficult. Especially in the early years of their life, when they cannot speak or when they suddenly don’t feel like cooperating during the test. It is hard, or even impossible to explain the importance of cooperation. Besides all this, there is a risk on low replicability, small sample sizes, limited experimental control, and measurements with limited reliability.

Nevertheless, research remains important. In this blog post, five examples of infant studies are highlighted.

1. Early exploratory behavior in infants with Down syndrome

The research team of Fidler and her colleagues examined cognition, receptive communication, expressive communication, fine motor development, and gross motor development in 45 infants with Down syndrome, with an average age of 9.5 months. They argued that it is important to understand delays in early development better, so that preventative care can be improved.

Specifically, they focused on the relation between cognitive functioning and early attention and memory skills. During infancy, these include the ability to sustain and shift visual attention and the ability to temporarily store and retrieve visual information.

Infants participated in a one-minute object exploration trial. Video recordings of the trials were coded using The Observer XT.

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2. Emotional responses to infant crying

Infants cry for many reasons; it is their main form of communication. They want to alert the parent that something is not right and that it needs to be fixed. However, hearing an infant cry can cause negative emotions, which can affect the way parents respond.

Researchers Riem and Karreman instructed parents to apply specific emotion regulation strategies in response to infant crying. One hundred mothers with infants younger than three years old participated in the study. In addition to several questionnaires, skin conductance was measured and facial expressions were analyzed using FaceReader.

The goal of applying the strategies was not only to produce a desirable immediate reaction, but also to preserve the long-term relationship between parent and child.

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3. Facial expressive responses to infant laughing

Parents mostly respond to infant laughing with affective behaviors, which is important for children because they learn to trust their parents to attend to their needs, and they feel supported by their parents. However, not all parents respond sensitively to infant signals, affecting the parent-child relationship.

The same research couple, Karreman and Riem, investigated whether instructing mothers to employ emotion regulation strategies could change self-reported, physiological, and facial expressive responses to infant laughing. Regarding the results of the study, the researchers suggest that hands-on intervention techniques could be developed to increase mothers’ observations of their laughing infant.

Baby FaceReader is a state of the art system to automatically detect infant facial expressions in order to help address questions in developmental psychology.

4. What does an infant’s gaze tell us about how hungry they feel?

McNally and her colleagues developed a coding scheme to observe infant gaze behavior and applied it in a study of complementary feeding. The researchers were interested in the way infant gaze changed during meals. 

Infant gaze was observed in twenty parent-infant dyads. They were filmed during two separate feeding episodes. The video materials of the first, middle and last twenty percent of each meal were used to observe frequencies of different gaze behaviors. This video data was coded using The Observer XT.

Analyses of gaze behavior during meals confirmed the hypothesis that infant gaze changes as a function of satiation. As meals progressed, infants spent less time gazing at food and more time doing exploratory gazing.

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5. Studying posture development in infants at risk for autism

As infants gain greater strength and balance, they develop postures like sitting and standing. This posture development does not just indicate advanced motor control, but stimulates other forms of development as well, for example, exploration and early communication skills such as joint attention.

In the study of Leezenbaum and Iverson, they examined posture development in infants with risk of developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The infants were observed at home during the families’ normal activities and during a period of free play with their favorite toys. The durations of all infant postures, classified as lying, (un)supported sitting, leaning on all-fours, or (un)supported standing, were coded with The Observer XT.

Observing infants for research on development

Studying infants continues to provide new insights

Infants learn rapidly and they learn from the culture and the people around them. Research helps to understand what infants learn, what they are processing and what factors are influencing the development.

The International Congress of Infant Studies (ICIS) is devoted to the promotion and dissemination of research on the development of infants through its official journal and a biennial conference where researchers and practitioners gather and discuss the latest research and theory in infant development. This year, the virtual international congress will be held from July 6 to 9, 2020. Meet the Noldus representatives in the virtual booth and get a free demo, watch a video, or chat live to learn more about our tools for your infant studies!

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Fidler, D.; Schworer, E.; Prince, M.; Will, E.; Needham, A.; Daunhauer, L. (2019). Exploratory behavior and developmental skill acquisition in infants with Down syndrome. Infant Behavior and Development, 54, 140-150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.02.002

Karreman, A. & Riem. M.M.E. (2020). Effects of emotion regulation strategies on mothers’ self-reported, physiological, and facial expressive responses to infant laughing. Parenting-Science and Practice, https://doi.org/10.1080/15295192.2020.1715686

Leezenbaum, N.B.; Iverson, J.M. (2019). Trajectories of posture development in infants with and without familial risk for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49, 3257-3277, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04048-3

McNally, J.; Hugh-Jones, S.; Caton, S.; Vereijken, C.; Weenen, H.; Hetherington, M. (2019). The eyes have it: Infant gaze as an indicator of hunger and satiation. Appetite, 133, 353-361. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.11.026

Riem, M.M.E. & Karreman, A. (2019). Experimental manipulation of emotion regulation changes mothers’ physiological and facial expressive responses to infant crying. Infant Behavior and Development, 55, 22-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.02.003

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