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Our Research

We study the development of infants and young children across multiple developmental domains, including perceptual-motor and social-cognitive with a focus on culture and context.

Through naturalistic and experimental investigations, we ask how infants’ emerging motor skills offer new opportunities to explore and navigate their surroundings, engage with people, and integrate social information from others in their learning.

Reciprocally, we examine how caregivers modify their expectations and change their behavior as a result of their children’s developing skills. Finally, we consider the role of culture and context in shaping childrearing beliefs and practices on children’s everyday experiences and subsequent effects on development.

Read on to learn more about specific projects below

How cultural practices shape infant development

In this project, we are studying the use of a traditional childrearing practice in Tajikistan, and throughout Central Asia—gahvora cradling—in which caregivers swaddle and bind infants in a wooden cradle. We are documenting how the cradle is used and its effects of infant physical, motor, social, and cognitive development and on infant nutrition.

We collect interviews and video data with caregivers. Additionally, we collect measures of infant physical development (height, weight, head circumference, and instances of plagiocephaly, brachycephaly, and torticollis), motor development (spontaneous motility, sitting, crawling, walking, object manipulation and exploration), social interaction (object sharing, infant-mother contingent responding, face-to-face interaction, social referencing). We have partnered with NYU, UNICEF, Save the Children, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tajikistan, and other clinical and scientific organizations abroad.

Researcher Rano Dodojonova interviews a Tajik mother about gahvora use and her baby’s daily activities. Credit: Scott Robinson
Infant completing a crawling task. Credit: Scott Robinson

In our longitudinal work, we follow children over several years. For example, we observed this baby when she was only 12 months old, and then again when she was 3 years.

Longitudinal study participant at 12 months. Credit: Scott Robinson
Same participant at 3 years of age playing outside after the study session. Credit: Scott Robinson
Participant pushing younger sibling around in baby stroller. Credit: Scott Robinson

What infants learn through everyday play

Our lab is one of 65 from universities across the U.S. and Canada aiming to study the nature of infants’ play across one year of life (Play and Learning Across a Year).

Infant play is universal and foundational for infant learning, but little is known about how infants play, the structure of their play, and how individual differences (e.g., infant temperament) and group differences (e.g., neighborhood, noice in the home) shape infant learning through play.

We video-record infants’ and mothers’ behaviors during natural activity in their homes for frame-by-frame behavioral coding. The dataset will capture data on infants’ and mother’s locomotion, language, object use. Additionally, we collect data on infant gender, emotion, and cognition. Parents complete questionnaires about family characteristic and report on their infants’ development. We measure families’ home environment and collect noise recordings. This project will yield a diverse and large dataset of mothers and infants across the U.S.

For more general information on the project, please proceed to https://www.play-project.org/index.html