This event already happened! Recordings of the talks are available below.
Wednesday, 2nd of December, 2020 - 1:00-5:00 PM GMT (London time).
Every 30min presentation is followed by 10min of dicussion led by Prof. Michael Thomas.
TALK 1: SLEEP
Multi-method exploration of the relationship between sleep and early cognitive development
The first year of life is a time of numerous developmental milestones; simultaneously an infant's sleep is also undergoing many fundamental changes. Research has shown that sleep can impact aspects of development, however findings are mixed, often fail to include objective measures of both development and sleep and longitudinal studies are missing.
This project used a multi-method approach to studying the relationship between sleep and neurocognitive development in the first year of life. The first longitudinal study used EEG, eye-tracking and questionnaires as measures of development and actigraphy, sleep diary and questionnaires as sleep measures. Results showed e.g. that different sleep assessment methods yielded different results in association with development. A second cross-sectional study took a closer look at the impact that sleep has on the infant brain by investigating how functional connectivity (measured by fNIRS) during a nap might serve as a marker of development. For this a customized NIRS-EEG headgear was designed so both oxygenation changes as well as electrical activity of the brain during sleep could be measured.
TALK 2: ACTIVE LEARNING
Individual differences for active learning strategies in infants
Infants are incredibly skilled learners. They don’t passively absorb information but actively engage in the process: they select information according to their own characteristics, e.g. their state of knowledge, motivation, abilities or goals. How infants weight such individual variations in order to decide on an active strategy to learn, remains largely unknown. An infant study looking at infants’ active engagement or disengagement in relation to how they process distracting stimuli will be described in this talk.
In this study, electroencephalography (EEG) was used to record 10-month-olds’ brain activity as they observed and built knowledge on a repeated stimulus. In particular, we investigated the role of high-frequency (high-gamma) EEG activity for infants’ processing of distractors and sustained attention. Gamma rhythms remain mostly undescribed and overlooked in infants because their identification is methodologically challenging. Here, we show that infants’ high-gamma activity is 1) modulated by infants’ knowledge and attention, as well as 2) by low-frequency brain signals (theta, ERPs). By linking the modulation of several well described brain signals with the modulation of gamma rhythms, our results evidence for the first time the existence of gamma activity reflecting true multimodal cognitive processes in infants.
A quick overview of second study will also be given. In this study, we looked at how 15-month-olds’ memory, inhibition and attention control abilities influence how they sample information. We want to investigate how individual differences in executive functions selectively influence curiosity-driven exploration during play.
TALK 3: TOUCH
Caregiver touch & infant exploratory behaviour
In many animal species naturally occurring variation in caregiver touching behaviours has lasting consequences on various domains of offspring development. In particular, caregiver touch has been found to modulate stress response to novelty and promote exploratory behaviour in rats, dogs and macaque monkeys.
However, this topic remains largely understudied with regard to human infants, likely because of challenges associated with capturing caregiver touch in humans. In my PhD, I have employed parent-report and observation-based measures to capture this means of interaction in a sample of 6 – 13-month-olds (n = 71) and their primary caregivers. I also collected measures of infant hormonal response (salivary cortisol and oxytocin), as well as table top and eye tracking-based measures of infant exploratory behaviour. I hypothesized that higher levels of caregiver touch would be associated with lower levels of cortisol, therefore promoting more positive response to novelty and more advanced exploration. I also tested the hypothesis that caregiver touch would be correlated with infant oxytocin, which, in turn, would affect infant’s attention towards social stimuli.
TALK 4: ATYPICAL DEVELOPMENT
The contribution of auditory attention to reading abilities of school-age children
Mastering fluent reading is perhaps one of the most significant accomplishments of primary education, an ability requiring a large amount of time and practice to develop and involving both domain-general and language-specific processes. Children show large inter-individual variability in their reading skills, including children with dyslexia. Attention was suggested to be one of the factors underlying individual differences in reading dis(fluency), as retrieval of phonological information from letters may be mediated by attentional mechanisms. Moreover, attention may modulate the effects of certain environmental conditions, such as the presence of ambient noise and/or distracting speech, on speech perception and reading, in turn, affecting how children benefit from reading and reading-related activities. However, it is still not fully understood whether and how attention (particularly in the auditory domain) contributes to reading processes.
In my project, I first asked how different properties of background speech affect children’s reading and whether auditory inhibitory control explains the susceptibility to impairments. Second, I tested the hypothesis that children with dyslexia show selective attention difficulties and that they contribute to their ability to perceive speech among competing distractors and to learn letter-speech sound correspondences, a critical step in reading acquisition. Last, I examined the factors underlying children’s reading gains following one year of standardised intervention for dyslexia.
TALK 5: INDIVIDUALISED EDUCATION
New ways of measuring the learning experience through online adaptive education for children
Since COVID-19, online educational technology is more in demand than ever. One of the benefits of an online platform is that learning can be tailored to the preferences and requirements of the individual student at a large scale. During my PhD, I had the opportunity to conduct experiments in an online learning environment, called Learn, played daily by 180,000 primary school children. It is fun and challenging for children, because it is well equipped to adapt the difficulty of mathematical and language problems to their ability. But the adaptivity of these practice systems can be optimised, using the insights from developmental and cognitive sciences. Here, I present the results of three studies, analysed with small samples in the lab and large studies in the Learn platform. First, I discuss our finding that individual differences in cognitive abilities (i.e., working memory and inhibitory control) impact math performance and eye fixations depending on how visible time pressure is, a key aspect in most gamified educational settings. Second, mouse tracking is presented as a promising way to adapt feedback and instruction on false associations children might have without the need to make errors. Third, I show evidence of post-error slowing (PES), the finding that humans slow down their performance after an error, in a range of mathematical and language tasks in Learn, as well as factors influencing the presence or magnitude of PES.