Health

Parents! Let’s take a look at your baby’s brain waves

By Kitty Knowles 14 March 2017
Summary

Now measure your little one's brain waves with Baby-LINC.

Fifteen years ago, Vicky Leong was teaching children with severe learning difficulties.

“Each child was as different from the next as night and day,” she told The Memo.

“One child would not speak and was over-sensitive to sounds – he would sit hunched up in a corner of the classroom with his hands clamped tightly over his ears, lost in his own world. Another child would continuously babble to himself … we even had a child who would try to eat anything within reach – including pencils and sharp objects.”

Doing more

As a teacher, Leong’s primary challenge was to manage this behaviour, while trying to impart basic life skills.

But, as a former doctor, this didn’t feel like enough.

“I was only treating the surface symptoms without understanding or addressing the core problem: that at some point – either before or after birth – the normal programme of neural development had been derailed in these children.”

“I became a scientist to find out how and why this could happen, and to investigate what could be done about it.”

Baby-LINC

Today Leong heads up the Baby-LINC lab – a baby brain imaging research group based at the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge.

Her work focuses on understanding the neural and social factors that support early learning, and she’ll be bringing the lab to Cambridge Science Festival this month.

“Specifically, we are studying how mothers’ and infants’ neural activity can become naturally synchronised during social interaction, and how this synchronisation could help babies to learn from their mothers,” says Leong.

Yep, that means getting kids dressed up in little caps to measure their brain waves.

Baby brain science

For its research Baby-LINC invites parents and babies to play together – all while your little one wears an electroencephalography (EEG) hat.

Sessions this week at Cambridge Science Festival are open to mothers and babies (aged 8-15 months).

“The cap is made of stretchy material and is quite comfortable,” Leong explains. “Each of the wires ends in a little sensor that can pick up the electrical activity in your brain.”

“These sensors work like a doctor’s stethoscope – they simply listen to activity which your body naturally generates.”

What’s the mission?

As well as learning what behaviour is best for babies’ learning, Leong is keen to identify how and why babies differ in their social responses.

Through this she hopes to tell parents how grown-ups can adapt to be most helpful.

“The brain imaging data that we are collecting is very complex, so we are currently focussing on developing reliable methods for analysis this data, and for drawing sound conclusions,” say Leong.

“Our early findings suggest that mutual eye contact is important … and this mutually-attuned state could be better for learning.”

So staring lovingly into your little one’s eyes could make them smarter…

Who doesn’t want to do that?

To find out more, or to participate in research, check out Cambridge Science Festival, or contact Vicky on vvec2@cam.ac.uk.