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How do we study babies?

A parent and child at the Lancaster Babylab We design studies that are like playing a game

Eye tracking

An eye tracker is a camera that lets us see where on a computer screen or a live scene your baby is looking. Babies like to watch novel and surprising pictures and events. By analysing their eye movements, we can understand how they make sense of the world around them.


As our brains work, they send off little waves of electricity. If we measure these waves, we can find out what is happening in the brain. EEG is a method we use to do this. We have caps with built in sensors for measuring these waves. They are covered in sponges and arranged in a net that stretches comfortably to fit a baby’s head. With this method, we can see what patterns of brain activity occur when a baby is learning about words, objects or actions.

Behaviour observation

We design studies that are like playing a game with your baby, and we observe how they respond or interact with the experimenter. Sessions can be recorded for later analysis.

Some examples of our studies:

Babies’ action understanding

A big part of using tools correctly is holding them properly. Do babies learn how to hold everyday tools like cups by watching adults? We show them pictures of people reaching for and holding cups in normal and strange ways. The pattern of babies’ brain waves can tell us if the baby predicted that the person would hold the cup normally.

Babies’ concept of objects

We present infants with real moving objects that disappear behind a stationary object in its path. Infants are then presented with possible and impossible events when the stationary object is removed. We are interested in whether infants understand that a moving object still exists when it disappears behind other objects.

Category formation and word learning

Infants’ category formation underpins language learning. We are interested in how infants group objects together into different categories such as cats and dogs using sounds and visual characteristics. We also look at how children begin to learn words for these categories using pointing games and eye-tracking studies.


We investigate communication between an infant and their social partner. We study how infants learn that we are communicating with them using eye contact and calling their name, and how this helps them to learn information such as object labels, categories and symbols.

Emotional Development

Soon after birth, babies can read emotions based on the face, body posture, and tone of voice. To understand how these abilities develop, we present infants with pictures or videos of adults and children expressing different emotions and record the babies’ brain responses and their eye-gaze.

Young children’s understanding of symbols

Pictures are a rich source of information that humans use to communicate with each other. When do children understand that pictures are symbolic and refer to something in the real world? How does this interact with language? We investigate these questions in toddlers and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.