Cognitive Development Research

Behavioral Research with Children

giraffeWe are currently working with kids between the ages of 3 and 10. Our behavioral studies with kids involve playing computer games and table games with a friendly experimenter.

We have recently worked with an app developer to designed a fun game on an Android! See our Schools page for more details.

One computer game examines children’s understanding of probability and risk. They are shown two characters who will give them coins. One consistently gives 4 coins; the other will sometimes give 6 and other times only 2. The children are given the chance to get as many coins as they can by picking between the characters. As they play, they accumulate tokens that they can trade in for toys at the end!

Another computer game assesses children’s ability to discriminate non-symbolic number. Children will be asked to determine which of two boxes contains more dots. They will accumulate stickers and can pick a big sticker at the end!

Our table games assess children’s understanding of number. They may be asked to show us how high they can count or to respond to flash cards. They get stickers for their answers and will get a bigger toy when they’re done.

Behavioral Research with Adults

adultOur research with adults investigates numerical cognition and its biological bases. Behavioral studies involve doing number tasks on a computer and typically last around 1 hour.

We pay participants $10/hour for participating in our behavioral studies.  Alternatively, you may be able to participate for course credit. Visit the psychology department’s website for more information about doing studies for course credit.

fMRI Research on Children and AdultsSONY DSC

Functional MRI (fMRI) is a form of brain imaging that shows us where blood is flowing in the brain. We use this measure to determine which parts of the brain are most active at any given moment.

In our studies with children, we show children movies involving numbers, letters or faces or have them play computer games about number while in the MRI scanner. This allows us to see whether different types of stimuli are processed in different parts of the brain. Understanding how the brain processes number can lead us to a better understanding of how children learn math and may help in the treatment of math learning disorders. There are no known risks to fMRI scans and children enjoy playing our games and being a part of science!

Adults participating in fMRI studies perform a series of computerized tasks while undergoing an MRI scan.  The fMRI brain imaging last approximately 2 hours or less. We pay participants $25/hour for fMRI studies.

Behavioral Research on Infants

Dr. Brannon is currently not conducting behavior research on infants.  She plans to continue this research in the future.

The basic procedure used by many of our behavioral studies is called habituation. Habituation procedures take advantage of infants’ natural tendency to look longer at things they have never seen before. In the first habituation phase, we show the infant a series of images that are all matched on some dimension.
The infants tend to look at the first few images for a long time, but the amount of time they spend looking declines as they see more of the same thing. Once the infant has become accustomed to these images, we show them the test images that are different on the dimension we wish to study.

1-vs-4-300x66

If the infants show an increase in looking time to these stimuli, it suggests that they recognize them as different from what they had seen before. In the example depicted below, a recovery in looking time would suggest that infants are able to discriminate one circle from four circles.

ERP Research on Infants

ERP stands for Event-Related Potential. Your brain generates electrical potentials as it works. By placing tiny sensors near the scalp, we can record changes in this potential in response to events in the world. In our studies, we show infants pictures or play sounds for them. They wear a small cap with sensors sewn into it so that we can observe how their brain responds to different stimuli. In this way, we are able to learn about what parts of the infant brain are involved in processing number.

This baby is wearing the ERP cap, ready to start the study.
This baby is wearing the ERP cap, ready to start the study.
After the study, we take off the cap and clean up. All done!
After the study, we take off the cap and clean up. All done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in participating in any of our studies e-mail us at brannonlab@sas.upenn.edu.