Skip to Content

Toddlers and children (18 months to 8 years)

We are doing studies to answer these questions about older kids:

  • How does touch screen use in kids affect learning, thinking and emotions?
  • Can video chat (like Skype) be used to maintain relationships between relatives?
  • What factors contribute to toddlers willingness to provide altruistic help?

Research interests

Touchscreen research

Touchscreen devices (e.g. smartphones, iPads) are widely used by children as young as infants. Research concerning the use of this technology’s effects on children’s development is lacking. Thus, guidelines for touchscreen use by children are based largely on television research (Council on Communications and Media, 2011). Furthermore, a wealth of educational apps are available for young learners, with unpoliced claims of educational benefits.

Parents and educators must sift through the conflicting news articles and policy statements to make the best informed decisions for their children. It remains unclear what influence touchscreen devices are having on children’s cognitive, social, motor and emotional development. Our research aims to address these concerns by asking questions such as:

  • Can children learn from touchscreen devices?
  • Do various types of activities on a touchscreen affect children’s thinking differently?
  • Does touchscreen use impact children’s emotions?

Altruism study

Research has shown that children are inherently altruistic. Warneken and Tomasello (2009) showed that very young children will provide help to another without being asked, irrespective of reward, physical cost or concern for reciprocation.

In recent years, debate has risen under what circumstances children will help and how this develops. Our research has shown that altruistic behaviour in toddlers is more selective than previously thought. In particular, it was shown that children are more likely to help familiar than unfamiliar adults.

Upcoming projects aim to further explore factors that encourage altruistic behaviour, including whether self-awareness facilitates helpful behaviour. 

Movement and learning

Movement, or motor engagement, plays an important role in children’s learning and cognitive development. For instance, playing with a toy can improve an infant’s subsequent mental rotation of that object (Frick & Wang, 2014; Schwarzer, Freitag, & Schum, 2013).  Others have also demonstrated the importance of movement in learning. In school age children, gesturing helps to improve their math abilities (Gunderson et al., 2015; Novack, Congdon, Hemani-Lopez, & Goldin-Meadow, 2014).

We are interested in furthering our understanding of the role of movement in non-motor learning by exploring:

  • whether any motor activity assists learning or if the movement needs to be directly relevant to the learning task (e.g. pointing at the letter ‘A’ versus tracing the letter)
  • if learning outcomes differ between movement and passive learning

The emotions ASD study

The growing inclusion of touch screens in mobile phones, mobile computing and gaming devices has meant that touch screen devices are being used increasingly by children. One of the aims of this project is to explore whether children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are learning any differently when using a touch-screen device as opposed to learning with a person. Some children with an ASD have difficulty learning about emotions and facial expressions, and so many therapeutic interventions are focused on helping children improve their knowledge in this area.

Our research aims to investigate the following:

  • Do children with an ASD learn any differently using touch screen technology?
  • Are there any differences in children's anxiety levels when learning on a touch screen device as opposed to learning without technology?
  • Do children with an ASD show any differences in eye gaze when looking at a face after an intervention.

Virtual reality study

Immersive Virtual Environment Technology (IVET) is a visual multi-sensory computer-simulated environment. It perceptually surrounds the individual, giving the impression that they have 'stepped inside' an interactive virtual world.

In past and current studies, this technology is used as an experimental tool to conduct basic research on human behaviour in a variety of disciplines and areas. Questions remain about the utility and potential of this technology to enhance children's social and cognitive development. Our virtual reality study aims to explore whether IVET has the capability to generate more vivid emotions in children, leading to a greater emphatic capacity and ultimately creating behavioural change. The study will also exploring the possibility of IVET to boost children's learning.

The project will compare IVET with traditional media devices (TV, radio, touch screens) and traditional learning tools (books, blackboards, videos, computers, tablets) to measure the impact of an immersive virtual environment experience in children's cognition, emotions and behaviour.