Babies are strange creatures. Small and pudgy, they elicit either cries of delight or frowns of irritation, but their parents worship them like little demi-gods. Today’s infants are able to lead something of a social whirl, with a bewildering array of activities and classes at their disposal, ranging from baby yoga and massage to nappuccinos – ‘coffee mornings where you can have a chat and find out more about cotton nappies from the experts.’
One could say that they have their household under their tiny thumb, and it is doubtful whether any Nobel prize winning author received more raptured approbation than your average baby upon the pronouncement of its first few words.
It is this – the way that babies learn about words – that is researched at the Oxford BabyLab, part of the Department of Experimental Psychology. While we can all remember the traumas of learning to solve quadratic equations, or of trying to remember the dates of First World War battles, few people can remember anything before three to four years of age, and so research is the only way of finding out about children’s early development.
Current research at the lab covers a range of different areas, including investigating when children first understand words – that is, whether they are able to link a picture with a word – something at which it appears they are remarkably good.
A rather interesting area focuses on how we identify what we see. Apparently, when shown a picture of an animal, adults first look at the head, and in particular the eyes, before moving on to other revealing features, such as a tail, and current research is aimed at seeing whether babies identify objects in the same way.
Those who possess a baby are in great demand as all these institutions are constantly on the look out for volunteers to research. So get yourself a baby and then get down to a babylab near you. You could be amazed what you discover. by Laurie Eldridge