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6 Mar, 2012


Anyone can take part in scientific research – even those who have yet to walk or talk. Lauren Foster Mustardé, and her son, visit the Birkbeck Babylab.

It’s not every day that a researcher asks to attach electrodes to your baby’s head without medical reason. I somewhat nervously agreed, even though I had volunteered us to participate in this research study. I was quickly put at ease, however, when I saw that my son found the strange things on his head rather amusing.

We’re at the Birkbeck BabyLab, based at the college’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. Working in the Wellcome Trust’s Science Funding division, I was aware that the Trust supported some research there, most notably Dr Tobias Grossman, a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow whose study on the role of the prefrontal cortex in the development of social cognition in infants was featured in the Trust’s 2009/10 research highlights.

I came across the BabyLab’s newsletter one day before I left on maternity leave and noticed that they were always looking for new study participants. Having worked in infant research myself early in my career, it is an area near and dear to my heart, so I decided to volunteer us as participants.

We attended two sessions when my son, Ewan, was 7 and 8 months old and participated in three interesting studies. The first (and, thankfully, only) one that involved electrodes used an EEG to track activation of the motor areas of the brain while Ewan watched videos of simple actions. The second study examined face processing and the recognition of emotions. Ewan’s gaze was tracked while he watched a video of expressive faces. The last study aimed to assess whether infants can predict patterns of events by tracking their gaze as they watched moving shapes on a screen.

Ewan was thrilled by each study and gave his stamp of approval with a mix of rapt attention, kicking feet and squeals of excitement. I couldn’t help but feel proud watching my little boy, thinking of all the complex activity whirring around in his brain. I wonder, though, if perhaps I had a more profound experience than Ewan did, as I think his truly favourite bit was having several young female researchers shower him with attention.

Lauren Foster Mustardé

Lauren is a Science Portfolio Advisor in Pathogens Immunology and Population Health, Science Funding at the Wellcome Trust.

Image credit: Flickr/Nesson Marshall
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