Every parent believes their baby has exceptional creative power or intellectual ability and maybe this is not a far-out claim when we think of the astonishing amount a baby does know. After all, their senses start to develop while they are still in the womb and they can progress at a startling pace in the first year alone. Babies are not helpless at all as they can process tons of information and are even using it to become attached to their parents, according to Parents magazine. But how do infants really see the world?
Developmental psychologist Erica Wojcik from Skidmore College is one of the scientist parents who participated in the SAYCam project that began a few years ago. It is a large, longitudinal audiovisual dataset recorded from the infant’s perspective. Every parent in the study put a headcam on their child twice every week when their baby was still between six and 32 months old. So, for three hours a week, Wojcik strapped a camera on her baby boy named Asa. Wojcik wanted to capture the world from Asa’s point of view as he grew from infant to toddler and the data was added in the SAYCam project to study how humans learn and develop.
Each kid in the SAYCam project showed the perspective of an infant who may just be bashing their toys, toddling across the room, or crawling in the carpet. This kind of footage enables scientists to learn how babies learn to socialize, move, and speak. Experts recognize that their environments greatly shape their development and differences in such development can lead to the child’s advantages or disadvantages as they grow.
Their analysis, which appeared in tech and science medium OneZero, reveals that scientists hope to find factors that can assist all children thrive and learn. OneZero added that traditional study involving this field usually happens in a laboratory, wherein the experimenters are watching babies crawl in a table or they teach kids nonsense words to study how babies learn. While these lab experiments can be carefully measured and controlled, there are limits to studying how infants learn in the actual world.
Differences and patterns among infants’ natural environments
With the advent of technology, researchers can now access small wearable records that babies can use for hours. The technology also has the computing power that can handle large data from these wearable records. Indiana University psychologist Linda Smith said that the goal of this kind of study is to find out the differences and patterns among infants’ natural environments and which of these differences matter to development. More than 500 hours of videos from baby headcams were gathered by Smith.
Baby headcam footage reveals that in the first three months of their lives, infants look at the faces for about 15 minutes every hour. Often, they look at people’s faces close up, like when a parent is smiling down when they are changing the diaper of their baby. She added that it could help kids learn to recognize expressions and people.
Visual input from faces to hands
Footage also shows that at 18 months old, babies will only spend 5 minutes of every hour looking at people’s faces despite adults appearing just as often as they do. Instead, they are observing people’s hand movements.
Then, they progress to motor skills, which involve learning how to sit up, crawl, walk, or grab an object. Motor development creates new pathways for babies to learn and explore. Once the child learns to walk, they can suddenly see the room at once compared to the time when they can only crawl. By walking, they can also already carry their toys from one place to another and this changes how adults interact with kids. Smith pointed out that the moment babies can independently sit, their parents will communicate with them differently or even show them more things.
Importance of having an attentive conversation
University of Chicago’s pediatric cochlear implant surgeon Dana Suskind moreover commented that through home recordings, they learn that parents are the “key architects” of their kids’ brains. This is supported by previous studies, which show that the way parents talk with their children affects the latter’s brain and skills development. It is not only about helping kids say a number of words but having an attentive conversation with him or her.
Suskind and the team hope that their at-home studies will pave the way for public health guidance for caregivers and parents. Meanwhile, Smith said that their home recordings can help researchers learn about cross-cultural differences. Other cultures do child-rearing differently and yet their kids come out fine, she added.
Wojcik mentions that since her headcam study is not yet finished, she plans to continue gathering home recordings until her son reaches 30 months old. So far, more than 20,000 “dadas” and “mamas” have already been transcribed from Asa’s recordings but Wojcik believes there is still a lot left to do. Transcription is a tiring task for a study like this and is a bottleneck in the study of developmental psychology.
It is also a challenge that the headcam recordings do not give researchers an accurate view of the infant’s life. For example, researchers would have to ask the consent of those who were included in the recordings. Cameras cannot also be easily allowed in grocery stores, daycares, and other crowded places. Wojcik herself admits she had to avoid roughhousing and active play during her son’s camera time too.
Number of births per year
According to Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, the total number of births worldwide in 2019 reached 140.79 million, a slight decline from 140.89 million a year before. This year, it projects that the number of births will be at 140.66 million. Combining this data from the United Nations Population Division, the fertility rate in 2018 was at 2.415 per woman.
Developmental psychology studies are significant as it helps us better understand how people develop and adapt to different life stages. Wojcik and the team’s project, for instance, can help the world appreciate what child development really is.