We collect EEG from babies and young children by having our youngest participants wear a special stretchy sensor net that records the electrical activity generated by the brain. This experience is safe and comfortable – and we provide lots of toys and bubbles! – which makes it an excellent tool to collect information about the brain from the earliest stages of development.
The EEG signal we collect can be broken down to pull out information about activity in different frequency bands, which are thought to be meaningful for brain function. For example, higher frequencies, like beta and gamma, have been associated with more complex cognition and language. We can also record EEG while participants look at pictures, listen to sounds, or perform simple tasks, which tells us how the brain learns and processes the environment around it.
LENA talk pedometer
In order to find out how babies begin to speak, and how young children hear and use language in their day-to-day lives, we collect language samples from the home using devices known as “talk pedometers”. These devices can capture and measure the sounds that children make – even before they begin to speak! – as well as the sounds they hear around them. They also measure interactions between children and their early conversational partners (parents and siblings). These devices are small and child-safe and can be used very easily and efficiently. A recorder is placed in a special vest that your child wears all day, and we have software that automatically analyzes many different aspects of the early language environment.
We use hair samples as one way to measure how infants respond to stress over long periods of time. We take a small sample of hair from a few different spots on your baby’s head – no more than a pencil eraser size in total – so that it is not visible. We analyze these samples for a hormone called cortisol, which is released both as part of daily functioning (for example, all of us have cortisol levels that are higher in the morning and taper off throughout the day) as well as during periods of stress. We use this information as a way to measure whether babies who have generally higher or lower reactions to stressful experiences interact with their caregivers and early language environment in different ways.