December 29, 2014

What is developmental research and why is it important?

Photo by Denise J. Applewhite

At the Princeton Baby Lab, we study how babies and young children learn to talk, see, and understand the world. This is an exciting time for research on child development, because we have the ability to study how a child’s ability to learn and their experiences work together to support their development.


Our research is important for many reasons. It helps us understand how the developing mind works, how biology and experience shape our lives, how caregivers can best support children’s development, and how we can help children at-risk for poor developmental outcomes. Our main goal is to develop a scientific understanding about how children develop, but our science is useful beyond the geographic and digital borders of universities: it helps us figure out how to improve children’s developmental outcomes. 



We depend heavily on the New Jersey community to help us out, so please consider volunteering a little bit of your time for our fun studies. See below for a few of the scientific questions we are trying to answer!


If you are a student and want more information about how to get involved in the research at the Baby Lab, please click here. 


If you are a parent or caregiver and want more information about what it means to be involved in our research, please click here for more information. 


We wish to acknowledge that the land on which we gather to work, study, and learn is part of the unceded territory of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation.


How do young children learn language?

Babies and toddlers have an amazing ability to learn language, in part because they spend a lot of time listening, looking, and interacting with caregivers. Our lab aims to understand language learning by studying how learning mechanisms and the environment interact to shape language outcomes.

Each young child's ability to process language in real time is rooted in and shaped by their experience. Our studies aim to look at this through simulations of a child's language experience. In addition to this, we study children learning two languages, children with communication delays or disorders, children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and adults learning a second language. We combine methods from Psychology, Linguistics, and Communication Sciences & Disorders. During our studies, we measure simple behaviors like eye and head movements, attention, and communication with others. We ultimately hope for our work to provide a link between research and clinical practice.

Are you interested in participating in this or other studies in the lab? If you have a child between the ages of 0 and 5, click here to sign up.

Interested in learning more about our research methods and what a study to the lab is like? Check out the For Parents page



How do bilingual children learn two languages?

Many children in the United States and around the world grow up bilingual, and over time they learn about the sounds, words, and sentences used by members of their family and community. But how do they accomplish this, given that they hear a constant mix of two languages? In this line of research, we investigate how babies and toddlers break into the complexities of bilingualism, and how caregivers can best support the learning of two languages. We have found that bilingual children are slightly slower to understand mixed-language sentences, and we are currently studying why this happens and what it means for bilingual development.

In our studies, we record babies’ and toddlers’ eyes as they look at pictures and listen to bilingual sentences. It’s kind of like watching TV for a few minutes. To learn more about our research methods, click here to go to our For Parents page!

We need children ages 0 to 4 to complete this study. Are you interested in participating? Click here for more info.

How do babies learn to see the world around them?
Photo Credit: J. Adam Fenster

Seeing is so easy for adults: We just open our eyes!  But this is not an ability that we're born with: babies must learn how to see, hear and get information about the world through their senses.  In this line of research, we investigate how a baby's ability to learn helps them see.  How does learning about something new help them to see it better? 

We've found that in as few as a couple of minutes, a baby can learn to change their visual system (the part of the brain that processes visual information).  We are uncovering how fast and flexible a baby's brain is by using a method called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) which is entirely safe, FDA-approved and comfortable for infants.  To learn more about this research method, click here to go to the For Parents page. 

We need visits from babies aged 5-12 months of age to complete this study.  Are you interested in participating in this or other studies in the lab?