JUL 21, 2015 2:31 PM PDT

Developing Babies' Brains

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
Psychologists know that adults learn from experience in order to gain a reward, get to the finish line faster or avoid a punishment or a dangerous situation. Until recently, people did not associate that kind of behavior with babies. The findings, could help shed light on neural development in infants' brains.
New research shows that babies learn from their expectations.
Now a University of Rochester study funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Development is claiming that infants can use their expectations to "shape their developing brains." The research team performed a series of experiments with infants 5 to 7 months old and determined that portions of their brains responsible for visual processing respond both to the presence of visual stimuli and the expectation of visual stimuli. This is a type of complex neural processing -- creating and storing memory, processing language and reacting to sudden movement -- that was once thought to happen only in adults, the researchers say in an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in Futurity (http://feedly.com/i/subscription/feed/http://www.futurity.org/feed/).

According to Lauren Emberson, who conducted the study at the Baby Lab at the University of Rochester when she was a research associate in the brain and cognitive sciences department - and who is now an assistant professor at the Princeton University Department of Psychology - "We show that in situations of learning and situations of expectations, babies are in fact able to really quickly use their experience to shift the ways different areas of their brain respond to the environment."

Emberson, who co-authored the study with Richard Aslin, co-director of the Baby Lab at the University of Rochester, and John Richards at University of South Carolina, explains that the researchers exposed one group of babies to a sequential pattern that included a sound, such as a honk from a clown horn or a rattle, followed by an image of a red cartoon smiley face. Then they exposed another group of babies to the same things, but without any pattern.

In order to assess brain activity when the babies were exposed to the sounds and pictures, the research team used functional near-infrared spectroscopy, a technology that measures oxygenation in regions of the brain using light. After the infants were exposed to the sounds and image pattern for a little over a minute, the researchers began to omit the image 20 percent of the time. They detected brain activity in the visual areas of the brain of the infants who had been exposed to the pattern, even when the image did not appear as expected.

As Emberson concludes, "We find that the visual areas of the infant brain respond both when they see things, which we knew, but also when they expect to see things. Part of the reason I wanted to establish this type of phenomenon in infants is because I think it's a really good candidate mechanism for how infants are using their experiences to develop their brains. There's a lot of work that shows babies do use their experiences to develop. That's sort of intuitive, especially if you're a parent, but we have no idea how the brain is actually using the experiences."
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
DEC 30, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 30, 2019
Mentally Stimulating Activities Prevent Old Age Cognitive Decline
Engaging in two or more mentally stimulating activities- including reading books, using a computer and engaging in social activities- has been linked to a ...
DEC 31, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 31, 2019
How PTSD Develops in the Mind
Close 1 in 4 people who experience severe trauma develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now, a recent study has identified how these traumatic expe...
JAN 20, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 20, 2020
Ovarian Cancer Protein Accelerates Alzheimer's Neurodegeneration
Around 21,000 people in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, while an estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Now, research...
FEB 12, 2020
Neuroscience
FEB 12, 2020
How AI and Neuroscience Propel Each Other Forward
Traditional notions of artificial intelligence (AI) are outdated. Rather than simply being able to understand inventory lists, or make binary decisions bas...
MAR 08, 2020
Plants & Animals
MAR 08, 2020
Rats May Not Like Hurting Other Rats
People generally avoid hurting others because they feel a sense of empathy, which is the ability to share or understand the feelings that someone else may...
MAR 11, 2020
Neuroscience
MAR 11, 2020
Categories of Memory Work Together to Form Abstract Thought
Indiana University New research from the University of Trento shows how areas of the brain work to recall complex semantic information.  The brain sto...
Loading Comments...