For the first time, researchers have studied the interactions between the brains of children and adults as they play together.
What happens when a baby and an adult play together?
According to a study by University of Princeton, their brains synchronize. In Psychological Science, researchers show that an adult and an infant interacting with each other are on the same wavelength: their brain activity is concentrated in the same areas.
“Previous studies have shown that adult brains synchronize when watching movies or listening to stories, but we know very little about the development of this neural synchronization in the early years of life,” says Elise Piazza, director of the study. The researchers have developed an infrared cap, which is capable of producing images of the brain. Brain oxygenation is the marker used to determine the presence of neural activity.
A synchronization of brain activity
Forty-two children participated in the research: an adult played with them, sang songs or read stories. Twenty-one babies were excluded from the study because they shook too much, three refused to wear the infrared hood. In the end, 18 children, aged 9 to 15 months, remained in the sample. Analysis of brain activity showed that during face-to-face interactions the brains of adults and infants are perfectly synchronized. These are the areas related to understanding the environment, as well as the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in learning. The latter was previously considered underdeveloped in infants. When the adult and the baby were separated, this synchronization disappeared.
A mutual influence of the brain
“The adult brain seems to predict when the child will smile, and the child’s brain anticipates when the adult will talk like an infant, both brains follow the toys,” explains the author of the study. When a baby and an adult play together, their brains influence each other dynamically. The researchers believe these findings can help medical staff better adapt to the children they come into contact with.