My name is Bethan and I’m a medical doctor who specialises in working with children. I’m particularly interested in children who are born early. I’m exploring how children learn to interact with others and have taken some time out of hospital work to allow me to work on this exciting project.
My project is looking at the stability of social cognition in childhood.
The study hopes to improve our understanding of how children learn to interact with others. I’m interested in how where a child looks helps them to learn the skills needed to interact with other people. In short I am looking at whether sociable babies grow up into sociable children.
A previous study showed us that 9 month old babies would chose to look at social information (e.g. people, faces) over non-social information (e.g. objects). We think this is really important to help them learn things such as language and understanding how other people are feeling. These are key skills to master for successful social interactions with other people.
These babies are now 5 years old and at school! I am now exploring how they have developed as they have grown up. I’m interested to see if and how the patterns of where they look have changed since they were a baby and whether this relates to how their skills and interactions have developed.
The project uses eye-tracking which means recording where someone is looking using a special machine. From the child’s point of view, it is just like looking at pictures on a TV. I’m repeating the same eye-tracking assessments that were done when they were babies. I‘m also doing some direct assessments with the children – these feel like games and allow us to find out how their skills are developing in ‘the real world’. Finally, I’m looking at how the children interact with their parents during play.
I am also exploring how this behaviour is different in children that are born early. Although many children born early go on to develop as their peers, some have life-long difficulties due to the effect of early birth on the developing brain. In particular, we know that it is more common for children born early to struggle with interacting with others as they grow. We have previously shown that babies born early have a different pattern of where they look compared to children born around their due date. I am keen to see whether these differences could affect their learning and be why some of them find social interaction difficult.
No, this second aspect of my work is part of much larger study of babies born early called the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort. This is following children all the way from birth until they become adults to help understand developmental problem that can result from being born too early. More information can be found about the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort by clicking the link below:
If you want to ask me anything, have any feedback, or simply want to discuss my project, you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.