An infant’s attempt to pay attention when playing with objects results into bursts of high frequency activity in the brain. But, ever wondered what happens when adults play together with their babies? In a new study, Dr. Sam Wass from the University of East London collaborated with Dr. Victoria Leong and colleagues from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Cambridge University to show that when parents engage into joint play together with their infants, the brain shows a similar bursts of high-frequency activity. More interestingly, the bursts of brain activity in the adults’ brain were linked to attention patterns of the babies and not their own.
For the study, the researchers recorded the electroencephalography (EEG) data for 12-month-old babies and their mothers simultaneously, when they were playing together with toys or separately.
Lead author Dr. Wass said that most of the babies spend majority of their waking hours accompanied by others, but understanding of early learning of the brain came from studies looking at the infant’s brain in isolation.
By simultaneously recording activity in the brains of the baby and their mother, the researchers found how changes in the brain activity reflected each other’s or their own behavior while playing together. It is known that when infants play together with adults, it helps them sustain attention to things, but researchers haven’t really understood why this happens.
Findings of the new study, detailed in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, suggested that when an infant pays attention to things, the brain of an adult tracks and responds to the baby’s looking behavior – as if baby’s actions are echoed in the brain activity of the parents. The researchers also found that when the adult’s brain is more responsive to the child, the child tends to sustain their attention for longer.
Senior author Dr. Leong said that the study asks more questions that the answers it offers, for instance, it is not known whether some adults are more responsive to their child than others and if so, why? Further, as the study was conducted only on mothers, the researchers don’t know whether mother and father are different in how they respond neutrally to their child. There is a lot more to investigate, the researchers said.