Toddler and children research

Swinburne Babylab is currently exploring a range of research topics with young children.

Touchscreen devices

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. As a result, guidelines for touchscreen use by children are based largely on television research (Council on Communications and Media, 2011). 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?


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.

Current projects aim to further explore factors that encourage altruistic behaviour. One of these projects examines whether self-awareness facilitates helpful behaviour. A second projects investigates if, and under which conditions, children would help a humanoid robot.

Emotions and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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. 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

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.