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Cambridge Babylab

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Language lies at the heart of our experience as humans and disorders of language acquisition carry severe developmental costs. Recent results in auditory neuroscience show that speech processing depends on brain wave rhythms aligning to rhythms in speech. So the infant brain needs to learn to “copy” the rhythms produced when we talk. Consequently, successful language acquisition by infants must depend in part on successful rhythmic processing. In the next months, our research team will launch an ambitious project to “drill down” into the relationship between brain rhythms, speech rhythms and language acquisition. 

The Center for Neuroscience in Education (CNE) has always created experiments where we follow the same child over time (called a and longitudinal study) so that we can see how their language abilities change. The BabyRhytm project is no different. We will continue the CNEs established work using rhythm and rhyme, but this time we are going even earlier. By following the same baby as they develop from 2-11 months we will see if the infant brain learns language, in part, by “copying” the rhythms produced when we talk.


Lab Members Bio:

Prof. Usha Goswami: Hello, I’m Usha and I have been working on children’s language and reading for the last 30 years. I’ve been interested in rhythm and rhyme for a long time, and in the Centre for Neuroscience in Education we have been finding important links between  how well children’s brains process rhythms and rhymes and how well they learn to read. We have developed interventions to help struggling brains based on music, poetry and rhythm and we are testing their effects in schools. Now we want to look at rhythm processing even earlier in development, during infancy. Learning how the typically-developing brain processes rhythm from the “get-go” , across the senses of hearing, vision and limb movement, should eventually help us to improve language learning for all children - and in all languages.

Dr Adam Attaheri: Hello. My name is Adam and I am one of the researchers that will be working with you and your baby in the Baby Rhythm project. When we speak or listen to language our brain produces tiny waves of electricity in numerous different parts of our brain. I am interested in how the different bits of the brain are wired together and how they communicate with each other to allow us to understand language.

Dr. Sinead Rocha-Thomas: Hi, I’m Sinead, and I’m a post-doctoral researcher on the BabyRhythm project.

My research has always considered rhythm from a musical perspective, and the big questions I’ve been interested in exploring include how we develop complex musical skills such as being able to synchronise our movements with rhythms that we hear, and why our species might be so particularly motivated for, and good at this task. For the past seven years I have been working with babies – I believe that studying development, and especially starting at the beginning, provides us with a unique insight, allowing us to tease apart the skills and experiences that build into the complicated behaviours that seem so simple and natural as adults.

My previous work has looked at how infants might perceive rhythm, using EEG sensor nets, and infants’ own ability to produce regular movement and adapt this to songs they hear, by measuring their movement and muscle activation. In the BabyRhythm project I’m very excited to be looking at spoken language and to see how these seemingly basic early rhythmic skills relate to later language development.

Dr. Aine Ni-Choisdealbha: Hello, I'm Áine and I am looking forward to working with you and your little one on the BabyRhythm project.

The "social world" of babies is very complex and yet they learn to process all sorts of social signals and communication quite quickly - from following eye contact, to guessing what people will do when they reach for a cup or a phone, to learning language. At the CNE, I am excited to apply my interest in the developing brain to research questions with real implications for learning and education."

Ms Natasha Mead: Hello! My name is Natasha and I am one of the researchers working on the Baby Rhythm project.

I will be one of the ones who will see you and your baby in the BabyLab! I have been working in the CNE for the past 10 years, so I’ve been lucky enough to see hundreds of children come through our doors! I am interested to find out how baby brains learn language and, following that, how these brains become reading brains!

Mr Sam Gibbon: Hello! I’m Sam, and I’ll be working with you and your baby on the Baby Rhythm project. You’ll see me both in the lab - where we’ll be running EEG, motion capture, and eye-tracking tasks, and at later home visits - where we’ll be measuring your baby’s language development.

I’m interested in learning about the biological basis of language acquisition, with a focus on speech perception. If we can discover fundamental learning processes in healthy populations that are constant across languages, we may be able to help those whose language develops atypically. In that respect, I’m very optimistic about the data that the Baby Rhythm project will provide.

Mrs Helen Olawole-Scott: Hey there, I'm Helen and I'm one of the research assistants on the BabyRhtyhm project who will see you and your baby in the BabyLab.

I'm interested in the neuroscientific side of language perception, particularly the brain activity of babies when they are developing their own language. We have a range of fun and exciting games for your baby to take part in that will help us investigate this.  

Ms. Isabel Williams​: Hi, I’m Izzie! I will be one of the researchers working with you and your baby on this exciting project. I have a background in education and working with those with special educational needs. I am passionate about learning, the barriers to it and how we may use our own learning to assist others. This project allows us to consider how our speech and rhythm perception, at such a young age, influences later development. I can’t wait to see how this research assists in the understanding of language acquisition and how we may apply it to better the academic and social development of our children.

Ms. Christina Grey: Hello! I’m Christina, one of the research assistants on the BabyRhythm project, and I’ll be working with you and your baby. You’ll see me both in the lab where we’ll be running EEG, motion capture, and eye-tracking tasks, and at home visits where we’ll be measuring your baby’s language development. I’m interested in how the human brain is “hardwired” to acquire language so effortlessly during the early stages of infancy. This project will help us understand how infants become attuned to rhythm; I am optimistic that this will enable us to detect markers of language disorders very early on which will help us create diagnostic tools in order to help them.