In the Laboratory for Perception, Learning and Development, we use a variety of research methods, including infant-friendly neuroimaging techniques (fNIRS), to look inside the minds of young babies and answer questions about perception, learning and development.
If you’re a parent interested in participating in our research, see the Princeton BabyLab website for more information and links to sign up to participate.
Here, we provide a glimpse of some of the many ongoing directions in the lab. For more information, see our Publications.
How do babies learn to perceive the world around them?
Seeing is so easy for adults: We just open our eyes*! Hearing is so easy, we just have to be within earshot. But these are not abilities that we’re born with: Babies must learn how to see, hear and get information about the world through their senses. A major focus for our lab is the investigation of how a baby’s ability to learn helps them see. How does learning about something new help them to see it better?
We’ve found that in as few as a couple of minutes, a baby can learn to change their visual system (the part of the brain that processes visual information). We are uncovering how fast and flexible a baby’s brain is by using a method called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) which is entirely safe and comfortable for infants.
*Of course seeing and hearing is not that easy for adults. Our brains are highly specialized to support these perceptual abilities. It feels effortless but it is a highly neurally and computational sophisticated process.
How do babies learn from their everyday experiences?
A key part of an infant’s everyday experience is the presence of statistical information. For example, after hearing a bark, there is a higher probability of seeing a dog than a cat. Statistical information is constantly present in sensory input and provides an infant with key information about their environment. Moreover, we know that infants can use this information to learn starting from their first months of life. We investigate the mechanisms by which statistical learning operates and how an infant uses statistical information to shape their brain.
For example, we’ve found that over just a few minutes of learning about some new information, an infant experiences a rise in their neural responses following by a reduction or plateau in their neural responses. These U-shaped neural learning trajectories are related to an infant’s ability to remember this information: The clearer this trajectory the better an infant’s brain remembers. We’ve also found that infants at-risk due to premature birth exhibit variation of these neural changes. Investigating these neural signatures of learning are one of the ways that we’re uncovering how exposure to statistical information and learning shapes the developing brain.