Toddler and children research
At Swinburne Babylab, we are currently exploring a range of research topics with young children such as: the rise of touchscreen devices, and how this may be affecting children’s development, altruism, theory of mind and virtual reality.
Touchscreen devices (e.g. smartphones, iPads, etc.) 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.
One of our recent research has shown that the indiscriminate nature of young children's altruistic behaviour extends to humanoid robots, despite the robot’s varying levels or friendliness or autonomy.
Current projects aim to further explore factors that encourage altruistic behaviour.
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 explore 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.
Theory of Mind Study
Humans beings are social species. We routinely interact with our social counterparts and make inferences about their goals, knowledge, desires and intentions. This ability to think about another person’s mental state derives from what commonly referred to in psychology as our Theory of Mind.
While adults’ Theory of Mind may be honed through years of practice judging others, the development of this ability in childhood remains an important question for developmental scientists. This kind of mental state attribution and prediction has been observed to develop in children of age 4 years or above. Our ability to attribute mind to others depends on several factors such as familiarity to the person, our relationship with the individual or our past experiences about the person’s behaviour.
Adults have had a lifetime of experiences to become adept at this attribution of mind to others. However, do children possess such abilities to recognize and attribute mind to others and respond accordingly?
We are trying to understand the effect of social factors such as group membership and behaviour on children’s ability to perform in a classic Theory of Mind task called the False Belief task and assess the amount of mental effort children apply to make accurate judgments about people and their beliefs depending on their characteristics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for research methods that work remotely. Just because researchers can’t test face-to-face shouldn’t mean testing should stop altogether.
We are investigating children’s pro-social behaviour—using methods typically delivered in person—over online video chat. This pro-social behaviour includes generosity and sharing habits. We are also looking at how recipient characteristics might change this behaviour.
For example, if the recipient is an in-group member, such as somebody who goes to their school or kinder, is a child more likely to share?
While other studies have broached this topic, all previous experiments have been performed face-to-face with participants. In our new normal, this is no longer possible.
Our research aims to contribute to answering the following questions:
- Is it possible for face-to-face methods to be converted to remote delivery?
- Are children as young as three years of age able to follow along and understand resource allocation tasks, despite the lack of in-person interaction?
- Is it possible to replicate the results of existing face-to-face studies, indicating that remote delivery is a valid way to measure these concepts?
- What impact has COVID-19 had on the way children share, if any?
Children's Screen Time Study
A common concern amongst parents and educators is the amount and type of exposure children have to screen-based media. Past research has reported children in Australia are exceeding screen time recommendations. However, detailed reports of the types of devices and activities children are engaging in are lacking.
In this study, we collect information about children's screen time in a number of different ways. This study is interested in younger children aged 0 to under 5, and takes place remotely, therefore not involving any lab visits.
You will be asked to complete a number of surveys over a seven-day period, including downloading and installing an app that will prompt you several times a day to report on your child's activities at that moment.
This research aims to answer a number of important questions:
- How much screen time are children engaging in?
- What devices are children using and what activities are they using screens for?
- In what situations are children engaging in screen use (and with whom)?
Media Technology Use During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Australian families to change their routines and activities. As families are required to spend more time inside their homes, we are interested to see if this change in routine has impacted children’s media use.
Furthermore, one of the biggest changes to routines has been the government limitations placed on social interactions. Preliminary research has found that video communication technologies (e.g., FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp video call) are often used when children are geographically separated from others. The current study is interested in exploring this further to see how video communication technologies are used children aged 0–5 years and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our research aims to investigate the following:
- Do children use media technology more during the COVID-19 pandemic than prior?
- Do children use video communication technologies more during the COVID-19 pandemic than prior?
- Are young children able to effectively communicate through video communication technologies?
- Are there benefits for children who use video communication technologies?
Want to help us advance our research?
Help advance our understanding of the infant mind and register your interest to participate in our research.
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