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Joint Dynamics During Infant Learning

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - JDIL (Joint Dynamics During Infant Learning)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2022-03-31

Infants spend most of their waking time interacting with their caregivers. However, the mechanisms through which these early exchanges shape infants’ development and learning remain mysterious. Most of our understanding of how the brain subserves attention and learning early on has come from studies that have mainly considered infants as passive recipients of information, and studied individual brains in isolation. Thus, we know very little about the neural substrates of how information is shared between caregivers and infants engaged in social interaction, and how this may impact early learning. The aim of this project is to shed unprecedented light on how dynamic social interactions affect attention and word learning during infancy. It has three research objectives: 1) determine how attentional and communicational dynamics are organized in naturally interacting dyads, depending on whether there is something to learn in the proximate environment; 2) determine how attentional and communicational dynamics between infants and parents impact word-learning; 3) examine how infants actively shape their own learning during naturalistic interactions. Our findings should have substantial implications for theories of development, as well as diagnostic and educational practices.
There are three work packages (WP) for this project. WP1 & 2 correspond to the empirical study conducted as part of this project, and WP3 to research dissemination and career development. The main work planned as part of WP1 and WP2 has unfortunately been heavily impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. I therefore conducted more work as part of WP3, which has produced successful outcomes.

WP1 and WP2. The initial phase of the project was dedicated to study design and set-up, which included completing every aspect of the experimental design, obtaining ethical approval, selecting the stimuli, installing the experimental set-up, and preparing and submitting a pre-registration. This has been completed, and the pre-registration is now accessible here: A pilot study has been completed between June and August 2020, which has allowed fine-tuning aspects of the study design and set-up. Initially, we planned to terminate data collection in December 2021, but this was made impossible by the covid-19 pandemic. The main way we were going to recruit participants for the study (baby groups) was neutralized during the pandemic. Hopefully, baby groups have now resumed, and we have been able to test more participants since September 2021. Based on a power analysis and estimation of drop-out rates based on similar previous research, we initially planned to test 90 mother-infant dyads. We have now completed only ~50% of the data collection for this study (48 dyads tested). The data collection is therefore still ongoing, and we are hoping to complete it before the end of June 2022. Once data collection and data coding is complete, the data analysis should be completed within 3 months. This process will be facilitated by the fact that analysis were pre-registered, which allows setting up analysis pipelines before finishing data collection. Data for 15 participants have already been partially analyzed in this way, but because this constitutes only 25% of the final data sample size, it is too early to draw any conclusion from this preliminary analysis.

WP3: dissemination and career developpement.

Articles stemming from this project (mostly methodological so far, because of the delay in data collection):
- Marriott Haresign I., Phillips E., Whitehorn, M., Goupil L., Wass S, (2022). Measuring the temporal dynamics of inter-personal neural entrainment in continuous child-adult EEG hyperscanning. Dev Cog Neuro.
- Wass S., Goupil L., (in review). Studying the developing brain in real-world contexts: moving from castles in the air to castles on the ground.
- Wass S., Smith C., Phillips E., Goupil, L. (in review). Vocalisations and the Dynamics of Interpersonal Arousal Coupling in Caregiver-Infant dyads.
- Phillips E., Goupil L., Marriott Haresign I., Whitehorn, M., Leong, V., Wass S., (in review). Proactive or reactive? Neural oscillatory insight into the leader-follower dynamics of early infant-caregiver interaction.
- Wass S., Goupil L., Smith C., Greenwood E., (in review). Needing to shout to be heard? Affective dysregulation, caregiver under-responsivity, and a disconnection between vocal signaling and autonomic arousal in infants from chaotic households.

Eleven additional articles that correspond to former collaborations or projects have also been submitted by the fellow during the action (see website).

Results of the JDIL study will be presented at the ISIS conference in July 2022. The methodological developments produced as part of this project have been presented twice already:
- Society for Affective Science 2021 (online)
- Seminar del Universidad Del Desarrollo (online).

I have given 8 additional oral presentations during this time, all listed on my website.

During the MSCA action, the fellow applied for and obtained a permanent position in France as a CNRS researcher. This position will ensure that the data collection and data analyses can be completed by the end of 2022.
This project addresses the impact of attentional and communicational dynamics on word-learning by relying on the innovative method of hyperscanning, that allows us to examine how infants and parents influence each other during naturalistic play interactions that can afford word learning. At the moment, there is a gap in the literature in our understanding of the dynamic aspects of social interactions between parents and their infants, their neural underpinnings, and how they impact early learning. Researchers are increasingly aware that studying attention and learning without considering the bi-directional influences that occur between infants and parents during naturalistic interactions ultimately leads to building incomplete models of how infants learn (Wass and Goupil, in review). At the same time, innovative methods enabling such research, like the hyperscanning method used here, are only starting to emerge. Increasing our understanding of the complex interactional dynamics between infants and their social partners is essential for: i) enriching developmental theory; ii) developing new techniques and educational practices to optimize learning and iii) understanding the mechanisms that give rise to developmental delays. Ultimately, understanding the neural and cognitive mechanisms that enable humans to acquire the essential building blocks of their cumulative culture (i.e. words), will help us understand what makes us unique in the animal kingdom.
schematic description of the study