8 December 2014 15:25

Research into child development is to benefit from two awards worth a total of £1.3m from The Leverhulme Trust.

Lancaster University’s Psychology Department houses what is probably the largest group of infancy researchers in the UK. By measuring infants’ eye movements and their brain activity, and by simulating their behaviour with computational models, the researchers aim to uncover the processes of early development and the link between developmental changes in the infants’ brains and their cognitive abilities. 

The £1m award is for a Doctoral Scholarship Programme over five years to train 15 PhD students in interdisciplinary research on infant development.

While being based in the Psychology Department, links to other Departments in the University will enable the drawing on additional expertise, for example, for the development of new methods in analysing data. PhD students will each use multiple research methods and will have the opportunity to visit international partner labs to broaden their experience.  

Professor Gert Westermann said he was grateful to the Trust for supporting infancy research at Lancaster in this way. 

 “This exciting Programme will enable us to train the next generation of infancy researchers on the interdisciplinary skills necessary to make progress in this field.”

Studentships will cover full fees and living stipends for UK and EU students, and the University is funding the enhanced fees for one overseas studentship per year.

In addition, the University is to support this Scholarship Programme with seven additional studentships as well as full-time administrative support for the Lancaster Babylab and funding for an annual research conference.  

In addition, The Leverhulme Trust is supporting a £335,000 individual research project on multisensory processing in infants aged under 6 months old.

The project entitled “Auditory-visual congruence and young infants’ perception of object persistence” will be led by Professor Gavin Bremner.

He said: “This research will lead to important new knowledge by extending existing work into the multi-sensory domain.

“We now know a good deal about how babies perceive the world around them, but one limitation in our knowledge is that much of the research concentrates on single senses, in particular vision or hearing.  This is problematic because it is known that very young babies have advanced abilities to coordinate information between senses.”

The researchers will investigate how sound moving with the visual object affects babies' tracking of a moving object.  They will also establish the effect of the same sound on the ability of the babies to fill in gaps in perception, as an object goes temporarily out of sight behind another object and the effect of sound on babies' perception of causality.