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What we do in the ELAB

The transformation from a cooing infant into a talkative toddler is an amazing feat. The first two years is also a time period when infants turn rolling into crawling, crawling into walking, and walking into climbing! And perhaps most incredible, infants begin to engage and interact with the social world in many ways that researchers are only beginning to really understand. Within the first two years, your infant’s brain is rapidly changing and adapting as it learns to process complex social information. Not surprisingly, we have a lot to learn about how these changes happen and how your baby’s complex behaviors emerge. By studying typical brain and behavioral development, we hope to eventually predict whether some children may need extra support during the preschool years. A major effort in the ELAB includes identifying infants and toddlers at risk for developing autism spectrum disorders, in the hope that we could one day intervene to provide infants and toddlers with the skills they need to navigate complex social interactions.

Here in the ELAB, our team studies brain and behavioral development of infants and young children. More specifically, our research examines the critical period of brain development in the first two years of life, which represents a time interval of dynamic development, plasticity, and potential vulnerability. During this time the brain is not only increasing in size, but the connections within the brain are quickly organizing into efficient networks. With your help, we want to discover how your child’s brain develops and how he/she learns and grows!

Currently, we have studies for babies ranging from 3 to 36-months. We are also recruiting school-aged children between 5 and 12 years of age. All of our studies are safe and designed to be easy and fun for the parent and child. Visits last between 30 minutes and two hours, which includes time for your child to acclimate to the new setting and time for us to answer any questions that you may have about your child’s development. Parents remain with their children during the entirety of the visit and all visits are scheduled during a convenient time for you.

Through behavioral assessments, eye tracking tasks, questionnaires/interviews, and magnetic resonance imagining we are mapping the development of specific neural circuits to specific behaviors over the first three years of life, and through these studies, we are able to better understand brain and behavioral development.

Equipment / Facilities / Procedures

The ELAB uses a sophisticated, non-invasive eye tracking unit called the Tobii TX300. This tracking system follows the gaze of your child’s eyes and monitors where he/she is looking on a screen and for how long. Your infant simply sits on your lap and looks at a computer screen that will show different entertaining images and videos. The eye tracker enables a reliable and accurate measurement of gaze which provides a sophisticated avenue to study complex human behavior.

Brain images are collected on a research-dedicated whole-body scanner. Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI) is a common medical procedure and has been used and approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for over 20 years. The scanner is non-invasive and poses no known risk to your infant. No sedation or anesthesia is used, rather, we collect the brain scans while your child sleeps as they would at home. The total time scanning time is approximately 45 minutes.

Infant tasks include behavioral assessments, which consist of us playing games with your baby, to characterize attentional, cognitive, and social development. Parents complete questionnaires about their child’s development and their family.

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