Researchers try to Predict Language Development in Babies Even Before They Can Talk

By University Of East London, PRNE
Sunday, March 6, 2011

LONDON, March 8, 2011 - A ground-breaking study will see researchers from the
University of East London using eye-tracking technology to establish if
future language, social and attention weaknesses can be identified in babies
as young as six-months.

Being able to predict weaknesses in the critical pre-school
years would enable professionals to develop targeted interventions, and
increase the long-term chances that babies born in some of the UK's most
deprived areas can enter school with an equal chance of success.

It is the first time a study of this kind has been taken
directly into the community through Children's Centres to engage parents from
all backgrounds.

Eye-tracking technology is traditionally confined to
university 'babylabs', and the study of language development among infants
currently relies on assessing speech patterns once infants begin to talk,
usually from the age of two-years.

Lead researcher Professor Derek Moore, of UEL's Institute for
Research in Child Development, said: "An estimated one in ten of the UK's
children are affected by language difficulties by the time they start school.

"In the long-term eye-tracking technology could help to
identify some of these weaknesses far earlier than is possible at the moment.
This would help children to get the best possible start to their education.

"Eye-tracking allows us to explore in detail exactly how a
baby responds to the mouth and eye movements of others, before they are able
to talk, and the early identification of differences in the way babies focus
their attention may indicate future social, language or attention

The eye-tracker gives parents vital feedback in real-time,
which can also be used to encourage parents to take a more focussed approach
on how their baby learns about the world, and helping greatly in the
development of early language and social skills.

Professor Moore added: "Pilot studies have shown parents are
very positive about the technology. By watching how carefully their baby
moves their focus of attention around, parents gain a real understanding of
just how involved their infant is when interacting with people and objects in
their environment, and they find this fascinating to see."

The three year "Take a Look Baby" study is being funded by the
Nuffield Foundation, and will be conducted at Children's Centres in Tower
Hamlets and Newham, east London. It will offer parents an unprecedented
opportunity to learn more about their infant's development.

The Tobii eye-tracker looks just like any other computer
monitor, but can accurately and reliably track a baby's eye movements while
they watch video clips of speaking faces or moving objects. The equipment
allows researchers to show parents exactly how their babies control their
attention, and how they decide what to look at.

The project is being run in partnership with Tower Hamlets
Children's Services and Acuity ETS Ltd who are the suppliers of the TOBII eye
tracking equipment within the

UK and Ireland and also involves colleagues from the Centre
for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College.

As well as the obvious benefits for families, the project will
also benefit health professionals, teachers and childcare providers who will
receive special training as a result.

Abe Atchia at University of East London,, Tel.
+44(0)20-8223-6239 / +44(0)7872-422270

Abe Atchia at University of East London, a.atchia at, Tel. +44(0)20-8223-6239 / +44(0)7872-422270

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