Infancy and Early Development

How do babies develop an understanding of the world around them?

Group Leader

Gert Westermann

Infancy and Early Development, Lancaster Intelligent, Robotic and Autonomous Systems Centre, Language and Cognition, LIRA - Society and Human Behaviour

+44 (0)1524 592942 D09, D - Floor, Fylde College


Validation study of Wonder Chart and Wonder-full Education Questionnaire in British school children
01/03/2021 → 28/02/2024

Early Career Fellowship: Mapping the Origins of Early Social Processing
01/01/2018 → 01/01/2021

AFFECTIVA - Personalize Technologies for Mental Health
01/10/2016 → 30/09/2020

Auditory-Visual Congruence and Young Infants' Perception of Object Persistence
01/04/2015 → 31/12/2019

Infants facial muscular responses to static emotional expressions
01/04/2015 → 30/08/2016

fEC Code: LUCID: The ESRC Centre for Language and Communicative Development
01/10/2014 → …

LUCID: Centre for Language and Communicative Development
01/09/2014 → 31/05/2020

Effects of Types of Service Provision and Consultation Interactions on Carer Adaptation to Childhood Epilepsy
01/04/2014 → 01/07/2018

In the world of social sounds: infant processing of human action sounds
01/04/2014 → 31/03/2015

Investigating Cross Cultural Differences
01/12/2013 → 30/11/2015

Understanding Reading Difficulties in Children with Rolandic Epilepsy
01/10/2013 → 31/12/2014

Understanding light in the late term human fetus: Proof of conception for social research
01/09/2013 → 31/08/2015

Young Infants' Awareness of Object Identity and Number: Evaluating Arithmetic Reasoning, Object File and Object Tracking Accounts
01/05/2013 → 31/07/2017

North West Doctoral Training Centre (ESRC)
01/01/2013 → …

Opportunities for bilingualism in preschool and school age children with developmental disabilities
01/09/2012 → 29/03/2015

Use of iPads for communication by children with special needs
01/02/2012 → …

Do young Children Understand the flexibility of visual Symbols?
30/06/2008 → 01/07/2009

Research Activity

We investigate the cognitive, language, social and emotional development in children from before birth through to the early school years. We are fortunate to have one of the largest Babylabs in the world, comprising the entire ground floor of a dedicated research building, with child- and parent-friendly facilities and dedicated parking. Our facilities include multiple observational laboratories with cutting-edge equipment to enable sensitive recording of young infants’ abilities, including eye-tracking technology, electroencephalography (EEG), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRs), electromyography (EMG), 4d foetal scanning, heart rate detection, galvanic skin response, and infrared motion capture.


Foetal and Newborn Learning Laboratory

Dr K Dunn in collaboration with Professor Vincent Reid, Waikato University, NZ

Our team investigates understanding of the visual and auditory world in utero. Extensive work has been conducted into postnatal cognitive development from birth but very little is known about how perception and cognition might develop before this point. For example, newborn infants have a visual preference for face-like stimuli, can discriminate between small sets of numbers and can match mouth movements to simple speech sounds. Our work examines whether infants develop these preferences and capacities before birth or if they learn these quickly once exposed to the post-natal environment.

We use low levels of light to present images to the late-term fetus and use the latest 4D scanning technology to measure detailed facial behaviour in response to visual and auditory stimuli. We then compare responses to the same shapes and sounds after birth. This will help us to understand more about how learning takes place and how infants understand other people during very early development.

This grant is currently funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Foetal Learning Laboratory

Language and Communicative Development

Professor Padraic Monaghan

We explore how children learn language from what they see and hear around them; and integrate evidence from behavioural studies, measures of brain activity and computational models to understand how children learn a language in their first five years of life. We also investigate how language delay may occur in young children and explore whether differences between children and differences in their environments affect how they learn to talk. An additional strand of research investigates how sleep affects learning, in children and adults, and how sleep disorders might impact on language acquisition. Our research is funded by an ESRC Research Centre, in collaboration with researchers at Liverpool and Manchester Universities.

Language and Communicative Development

Developmental Cognitive Science Lab

Professor Gert Westermann

Research in the Developmental Cognitive Science lab is concerned with the development of knowledge in infants and young children and the factors that shape individual learning trajectories. We study how infants learn about objects, categories and social partners in their environment, and how beginning language abilities contribute to and shape this learning. A focus in our work is on curiosity-based learning: how do infants and toddlers explore their environment actively, and how does such active exploration differ in learning outcomes from passive exposure to information? We investigate how curiosity can be measured in infants, older children, and adults, what kinds of information elicits curiosity, if expression and manifestation of curiosity varies across cultures, and how we can characterize individual differences in curiosity-based learning. Insights into these questions will enable us to support children by providing environments that foster curiosity and active learning in pre-school and school settings.

In our work, we use eye tracking (including measures of pupil dilation), EEG, computational modelling, behavioural studies and surveys. Our research is funded by the ESRC LuCiD Centre in collaboration with researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Liverpool.

Developmental Cognitive Science Lab

Autism Lab

Dr Calum Hartley

Our research investigates how autism influences three aspects, including word learning, symbolic understanding of pictures, and ownership. Word learning investigates how autistic children learn new words and aims to identify environmental conditions to facilitate their learning. Research into the symbolic understanding of pictures investigates autistic children’s understanding of how pictures relate to the world and how their comprehension is influenced. Ownership investigates how ownership biases children’s preferences and valuations for objects, how they identify “who owns what”, their understanding of ownership rights, and they share owned resource.

Autism Lab

Active Learning Lab

Dr Marina Bazhydai

Research at the Active Learning Lab (ALL) broadly concerns development of knowledge acquisition, transformation and transmission in active social learning. We study active information-seeking and information-giving, curiosity, play and creativity across development. These distinct but connected lines of research allow us to better understand how, from very early on, infants effectively learn about the world through both active inquiry skills and reliance on information supplied by others. Equipped with these competing strategies, not only do children seek new information, but they are also able to creatively modify and transform it, as well as teach others about what they learned or created. We are thus interested in understanding the relations between curiosity, creativity and social knowledge exchange. We use behavioural, eye-tracking and physiological experimental methods, as well as naturalistic observation and surveys, and study a range of age groups, from infants in their first year of life to children in formal school settings. With these lines of research, we also aspire to contribute to transforming educational practices through developing evidence-based pedagogical recommendations.

Active Learning Lab