An interesting new study out of the University of Cambridge reveals how the electrical currents in an infant's brain change when they receive eye contact. The study shows that infants' brainwaves are most closely correlated to an adult's brainwaves when he/she makes direct eye contact.
Researchers placed skull caps with electrodes on all the infants participating in this study. Scientists used electroencephalography (EEG) to study the electrical currents in the babies' brains.
In total, scientists examined brain scans of 36 infants. 17 infants were used in the first experiment and the other 19 were used in the second trial.
First, researchers used a recording of a woman reading nursery rhymes to a camera. In the video, the woman alternates from looking directly into the camera and looking away. The woman's brain scans were recorded before scientists used the video in front of the infants.
Researchers placed the infants in front of a TV screen and monitored their brainwaves as the woman was speaking to them. They found that the babies' brain scans were most similar to the woman's when she was staring directly at them.
In the second part of the study, professors wanted to see what happens to babies' brains when a live adult is in the room. The adult in this portion of the study was instructed to alternate between looking directly into the babies' eyes and turning away while singing a song.
Brain scans from this second part of the survey show that infants had similar brainwave patterns whenever the adult looked into their eyes. Also, study authors note that more babies attempted to speak (aka use "vocalizations") when the adult looked at them.
Other studies in the past proved that a child's heart rate, emotions, and gaze could sync with a parent's. This is one of the first studies to reveal a link between child and adult brain activity.
Victoria Leong, who teaches in Cambridge's Department of Psychology, was the head author on this study. Dr. Leong told reporters she believes staring into a child's eye has such a profound impact on the brain because it is an evolutionary communication pattern. She went on to say, "This mechanism would prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronizing when to speak and when to listen."
In addition to teaching at Cambridge, Dr. Leong also serves as an assistant professor of psychology at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. Her main area of interest is studying babies' brain mechanisms to help parents better interact with their children. Dr. Leong earned both her undergraduate degree and PhD at Cambridge studying medical sciences and psychology.
All of this research took place in Cambridge's Baby-LINC Lab. Besides Dr. Leong, a few other scientists involved in this project include PhD student Elizabeth Byrne, Dr. Kaili Clackson, and Dr. Stanimira Georgieva.
Anyone interested in learning more about this study could check out the full report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This article was entitled, "Speaker gaze increases information coupling between infant and adult brains."