Infancy Studies Laboratory
at Rutgers University
 

Our basic research seeks to uncover the early neural mechanisms necessary for normal cognitive and language development.  Specifically, we study development of temporally-bounded sensory information processing (shown to be a major predictor of language impairment and dyslexia in older children), the neural substrates that support these developing abilities and the relations seen with emerging language and cognitive abilities from infancy through early childhood.  All studies are prospective and longitudinal and conducted on children from 3 months to 10 years.



Research Studies at the Infancy Studies Laboratory 


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Current Studies (Now Recruiting)

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Complex Auditory Brainstem Processing in Early Development     

                      cABR and Behavioral Measures

                      Participants:  3 - 24 month olds


How do the brain’s peripheral auditory processing networks develop during infancy, and how are they related to emerging language skills?


The purpose of this study is to help us characterize the developmental trajectory of brainstem responses to speech and speech-in-noise over the first two years of life by measuring auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) via several electrodes placed on the scalp as an earpiece provides auditory stimuli.  From this study we hope to delineate the relevance of brainstem measures to emerging speech and language behaviors.




EEG/ERP and Behavioral Measures

Participants:  3 - 6 month olds


What’s happening in your child’s brain while he or she sleeps?  How is that different from your (adult) brain while you sleep?  How do these brain waves mature over time?


The purpose of our study is to measure infant brain wave patterns during natural sleep (naptime) using electroencephalogram (EEG) at 3.5 and 6.5 months of age.  Our objective is to characterize the brain waves occurring in infants during natural sleep, examine how different areas of the brain communicate with one another, and determine if the brainwave patterns identified are associated with behavioral measures, such as temperament, motor, and early cognitive skills.




A Resting-State fMRI Study

MRI combined with EEG/ERP

and Behavioral Measures

Participants:  6 month olds


How can experiences change brain functions and emerging behaviors in infants? Experience-induced plasticity is a key to successful learning during development.


This project primarily aims to delineate the effect of short-term auditory exposure on functional brain networks, particularly those involved in auditory processing, in infants.  We combine naturally sleeping MRI with EEG/ERP and behavioral measures.  This approach allows us to deepen our understanding of the development of brain-behavior relationships in infants.





Optimizing Infant Information Processing      

EEG/ERP, Eye-tracker, and Behavioral Measures

Participants:  4 - 18 month olds


Are infants who have been exposed to specific types of auditory stimulation over the first year of life more efficient sound processors? 


This project uses information processing techniques to shape listening behavior and EEG/ERP to assess changes in performance over time. We are studying the effects of increased experience in discriminating between different brief or rapidly successive sounds early in life, and how such early experience might optimize later language development. 




Continuing Studies (No Longer Recruiting)



Detecting Auditory Change

EEG/ERP and Behavioral Measures

Participants:  6 - 9 month olds 


       

How are early information processing abilities (as indexed via rapid auditory processing (RAP), habituation, and recognition memory) related to later cognitive and linguistic development?


This project combines two techniques: measures of cortical electrical activation via electroencephalogram (EEG) and behavioral assessment. The goal is to clarify whether discrepancies in language development between children at risk for language impairment due to their family history (FH+) and typically developing children without such a history (FH- controls) are related to underlying basic neurocognitive differences in responding to rapidly changing auditory information.




EEG/ERP and Behavioral Measures


Can the cognitive and language processing abilities of children with autism who are non-verbal or minimally verbal be evaluated? 


This project utilizes EEG/ERP and eye tracker technology to assess linguistic processing skills.  In collaboration with the Developmental Neurolinguistics Lab at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, we hope to create reliable and informative techniques to facilitate effective assessment and intervention of non-verbal or minimally verbal children with autism and to actively share this knowledge with teachers, parents, clinicians, researchers, and medical professionals.





Longitudinal Study of Language Development

Language Impairment & Families and Very Low Birth Weight Infants

Behavioral Measures


How are infant perceptual information processing tasks and later cognitive and language development related? Why do some children have difficulty learning language? This study has two interrelated objectives. First, we are examining early information processing skills as indexed by performance on habituation, recognition memory, and rapid auditory processing tasks. Second, we are interested in looking at any differences in development across and within our control group of typically developing children and three “at-risk” groups of children:

• Children with a family history of language impairment

• Children who are born very low birth weight and premature

• Children who have recurrent middle ear infections (otitis media) during their first year of life



Assessing Cognition in Nonverbal Children

EEG/ERP, Eyetracker, and Behavioral Measures


How can we effectively assess the cognitive and language abilities of nonverbal, motor-impaired children, particularly children with holoprosencephaly (HPE) and related brain malformations? Children with severely limited motor abilities and no expressive language due to early brain insult may have better than expected cognitive and receptive language skills.  Assessment techniques, such as EEG/ERP and eye tracker technology, that bypass or minimize these impaired channels of communication can lead to a better assessment of cognitive abilities. Research goals include the identification of candidate brain substrates for emerging abilities and correlation of neural abnormalities with behavioral outcomes.




Brain Structure & Language Function

EEG/ERP, MRI, and Behavioral Measures


How do brain structure, function and behavior change over time? How do these changes affect language, memory and reasoning skills? Utilizing a convergence of techniques, team members from Rutgers University and New Jersey Medical School (UMDNJ) are part of a consortium of distinguished developmental psychologists, neuroscientists, and neurobiologists from six top institutions in North America who have been funded to study brain development in both very young children and adolescents.  We have been developing models of early brain development using age-appropriate MRI scans and tracing changes in brain structure across time in normally developing infants and toddlers. Analysis of this rich data set is ongoing.




The Bilingual Brain

EEG/ERP


Does the bilingual brain differ from the monolingual in the efficient processing of non-verbal auditory events, such as complex tones, known to be critical to the acoustical analysis of the speech stream?  What role does age of acquisition of the second language and proficiency play in the processing of non-linguistic information?  What underlying mechanisms may account for these differences? Using EEG/ERP techniques, we begin to understand how the adult bilingual brain processes acoustic information that is not language related and this will set the stage to explore the infant bilingual brain.




Attention and Auditory Processing

EEG/ERP and Behavioral Measures


How does attention influence rapid auditory processing abilities and language development? Processing speech requires the integration of auditory cues that are brief, rapid and successive. This ability has been termed rapid auditory processing (RAP).  RAP skills are believed to underlie successful language development, and difficulties with RAP are often observed in individuals with developmental language impairments (LI). This series of experiments investigated relations among RAP, attention, and language in several groups of individuals: normal adults, children diagnosed with LI, and children with typical language development (TLD). The impact of an intervention program (Fast ForWord-Language) on these relations was also investigated in LI children.




Our research is funded by the following:

NIH / NICHD

NIH / NINDS

NSF (Temporal Dynamics Of Learning Center)

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Human Frontiers in Science Program

Linda and Don Carter Foundation

Carter-Crowley Foundation

Communities Foundation of Texas

Elizabeth H. Solomon Center for Neurodevelopmental Research

Dana Foundation

The Santa Fe Institute Consortium

Ellison Foundation

Autism Speaks

Rutgers University Board of Trustees Excellence in Research Award


 
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