5 examples of infant studies

5 examples of infant studies

Posted by Jacqueline Martinali on Thu 23 Jun. 2022 - 6 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.

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?
  • 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?

FREE WHITE PAPER: Tools for Infant Studies

Download the free White paper to learn more about the software tools available for infant studies.

  • Capture behaviors with video
  • Annotate behaviors accurately
  • Unobtrusive emotion analysis

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. How does handedness relate to infant language development?

Developing fine motor skills is key to children’s learning and exploration. According to research, consistency in hand preference early in development is linked to language skills. For example, Nelson and colleagues performed several studies to confirm this.

Researcher Sandy L. Gonzalez and her team builds on the studies of Nelson, focusing on receptive and expressive language abilities. They included a group of 90 children, which were recorded during the assessment of their Role Differentiated Bimanual Manipulation (RDBM) skills. 

Different objects were presented to the children, which they needed to stabilize with one (non-preferred) hand while the other hand manipulated the object (preferred hand). For example, unzipping a bag, removing a toy from inside another toy, or peeling a sticker from its backing.

Trained observers used The Observer XT to score video data afterwards.

FREE TRIAL: Try The Observer XT yourself!

Request a free trial and see for yourself how easy behavioral research can be!

  • Work faster
  • Reduce costs
  • Get better data

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.

FREE WHITE PAPER: FaceReader methodology

Download the free FaceReader methodology note to learn more about facial expression analysis theory.

  • How FaceReader works
  • More about the calibration
  • Insight in quality of analysis & output

3. The role of mimicry in the development of social communication

You smile at your baby and your baby smiles back! Copying facial expressions is one of the great milestones in the social development of a child. The research team of Eliala A. Salvadori, of the University of Amsterdam, conducted a study to investigate the influence of emotional stimuli on mimicry.

The infants (six- and twelve-month-olds) and one of their parents were presented with dynamic videos of unfamiliar adults showing happy, sad, angry, and fearful faces. Using a microanalytic facial coding system, the researchers assessed emotional communication, which included facial expressions and gaze direction. 

With this study, the researchers wanted to unravel the mechanisms controlling early development of emotional mimicry.

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. Challenging play behavior: does it still exist?

Over recent decades, children are left with fewer opportunities for free play, especially outdoors. Children spend more time indoor in sitting activities, and less time in outdoor play and vigorous physical activity. However, children need feelings of exhilaration now and then. 

Research indicates that risky play and risk-taking activities increase children’s physical activity, improve motor/physical competence, increase spatial and perceptual skills, and enhance their ability to assess and manage risk appropriately. 

The research team of Ellen B.H. Sandseter addressed the question how risky play is connected to spaces and materials in the physical play environment. The extensive dataset of observations that they gathered, coded, and analyzed using The Observer XT, allowed the researchers to quantify the various behaviors and conclude which risky behaviors occurred, with which toys or tools, in what spaces, and how often.

FREE WHITE PAPER: How to set up a coding scheme

Download here the FREE white paper 'How to set up behavioral coding - 7 tips' and learn more about

  • Defining your behavior group
  • Point events
  • Coding from a diversity of sources

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

Performing infant studies 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. During the conference researchers and practitioners gather and discuss the latest research and theory in infant development. This year, the international congress will be held in Ottawa, Canada, from July 7 to 10, 2022. 

Meet the Noldus representative, Gillis Bosman, in booth #1 and get a free demo, watch a video, or have a chat to learn more about our tools for your infant studies!

PRODUCT OVERVIEW: Behavioral research solutions

Download our free product overview and find out which Noldus products are suitable for your research.

  • Divided into research areas
  • Find the solution for your research
  • Trust our 30 years of experience


  • Gonzalez, S.L.; Campbell, J.M.; Marcinowski, E.C.; Michel, G.F.; Coxe, S. & Nelson, E.L. (2020). Preschool language ability is predicted by toddler hand preference trajectories. Developmental Psychology, 56(4), 699–709. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000900
  • 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
  • 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
  • Salvadori, E.A.; Colonnesi, C.; Vonk, H.S.; Oort, F.J. & Aktar, E. (2021). Infant Emotional Mimicry of Strangers: Associations with Parent Emotional Mimicry, Parent-Infant Mutual Attention, and Parent Dispositional Affective Empathy. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 654. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18020654
  • Sandseter, E.B.H.; Sando, O.J.; Kleppe, R. (2021). Associations between Children’s Risky Play and ECEC Outdoor Play Spaces and Materials. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 3354. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18073354
Don't miss out on the latest blog posts
Share this post
Relevant Blogs

3 Examples of eye tracking lab set-ups

Can you imagine, in the 19th century the study of eye movements for instance was done by means of direct observations? Luckily, nowadays eye tracking can easily be automated.

Understanding behavioral psychology with The Observer XT

What causes you to procrastinate, eat junk food, or form a habit? Questions like this, about the connection between our minds and our behavior, are studied in behavioral psychology.

Challenging play behavior: does it still exist?

Although children tend to spend more time indoor in sitting activities, they need feelings of exhilaration for behavioral development. Researchers investigated how risky play behavior can be encouraged.