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Wracking Their Brains in the Babylab

Research by British scientists into the way babies think is opening the door of exciting possibilities concerning the preventative treatment of autism in small children.


"What is he thinking?" Scientists are exploring the world of baby thoughts

The ‘babylab’ at Birkbeck College in London has been fawning over hundreds of infants in an attempt to understand the brainwaves of babies.

Attentive staff at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development School of Psychology welcome one baby at a time to their medical kiddie heaven tucked away in the college and give them their undivided attention.

Special 'hairnet' connects brain to computer

With face pulling, toy waving and jabbering in ‘motherese’, the subject is enthralled before a device known as a geodesic hairnet is placed on the baby’s head.

The majority of the children remain happy enough to then be taken into the experiment cubicle where the hairnet is plugged into a computer so that its foam-covered electrodes can record the baby’s brainwaves.

After a stream of cartoons and pictures of upside down faces, the computer read out is analysed as part of the research into how the upside down face is processed by the infant mind.

Results so far suggest that babies look longer at faces they can make eye contact with and, according to lead researcher Dr. Teresa Farroni, tell scientists that babies are born prepared to detect socially relevant information and are primed to interact.

But why is this such an exciting discovery? Any parent or relative will have guessed as much from their own contact with a child. Babylab’s Dr Denis Mareschal says that this revelation “opens up a broader field of cognitive neuroscience”.

Early detection of autism

Once a picture is made of normal brain behaviour from the current research, it will then be possible to diagnose when a baby is not behaving normally, even at a very young age.

Although this is some way off, according to the white coats at Birkbeck, the research may lead to early diagnosis of conditions such as autism in small babies.

Baby träumt

Could the thoughts of your child hold the key to the regenerative powers of the brain?

The scientists at Babylab hope that intervention at an early stage will correct the development of neural conditions due to the fact that a baby’s brain is uniquely ‘plastic’ and is therefore more adaptable.

Baby power may offer hope in brain injury recovery

Some cases have shown that babies who have had bleeds into the brain have bypassed the damaged area and have come through unscathed.

The ultimate result could be an understanding of this malleability which could lead to advances in the treatment of adult stroke victims and those suffering other brain injuries.

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