Students Staff

23 February 2016

Mums-to-be needed for new child development study

Baby in the Essex Babylab

Baby in the Essex Babylab

Pregnant women are being invited to take part in a new research project at the University of Essex’s Babylab to track how babies’ attention and social skills develop over time.

The Babylab team is hoping to attract at least 75 mothers-to-be to take part in the study, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Led by Dr Silvia Rigato and Dr Karla Holmboe, from the Department of Psychology, the project will involve the women coming to the lab for five visits – the first during the last trimester of pregnancy and the last time when their baby is ten months old.

Each visit will involve filling in questionnaires and completing specific tasks to study basic attention and social skills while recording the baby’s heart rate, looking behaviour and natural brain activity. Some parts of the study will use EEG (electroencephalogram) head nets which record natural brain activity. The researchers will also use eye tracking to learn about babies’ attention and their recognition of other people and their emotional expressions. These are important skills in our multisensory world. All the procedures are safe and non-invasive.

By tracking the development of attention and social skills in infants over time, researchers hope to understand more about how these skills develop in typical children. In the future, this knowledge may help identify infants who are at risk of developmental difficulties. In addition to having a fun experience, this is a unique opportunity for families to learn about research at the Essex Babylab and contribute to our knowledge about how babies develop during their first year.

Dr Rigato, who has extensive experience of research with young infants, said: “We are really excited about this project. It is rare to get the opportunity to follow a group of children right from the beginning to see how they develop over the first year. We hope this study will help us understand what early changes might lead to later problems, so that eventually we can help children at risk.”

All participants will receive a £20 shopping voucher for each visit to the Babylab (£100 in total).

If you are interested in taking part in the project please contact the Babylab on 07548 189463 or email

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