Infants learn and develop at incredible speed. Although relatively helpless at birth, infants undergo significant development in the first year of life in many domains. But how do infants learn so quickly? They likely gather information that is optimal for learning by systematically allocating their visual attention to specific types of stimuli. Allocation of visual attention can be (1) intrinsically driven to guide their explorations in the world, or (2) guided by other social agents. Moreover, infants’ intrinsic visual exploration may be dependent on the “hardware”: the brain. This project aims to develop a comprehensive account of how these mechanisms interact in full-term and pre-term infants. Visual exploration and attention is often disrupted in pre-term infants, which may contribute to developmental delays. Since the World Health Organization estimates that 15 million infants are born pre-term annually, it is crucial to investigate how infants visually explore their environment and how this can be promoted through social interactions. Research into infants’ visual attention has been conducted by scientists from various fields, but few attempts have been made to integrate these findings into a comprehensive framework. As such, the interplay between these factors remains unknown. This lack of integration causes severe gaps in our theoretical understanding, hindering the development of healthcare policies and interventions. InterPlay addresses these knowledge gaps by integrating previous observations into a comprehensive, longitudinal study. The findings will have implications for current scientific and therapeutic practices. If caregiver attention-guiding behaviours could compensate disruptions in pre-term infants’ visual exploration, this would offer great potential for interventions early in life. Furthermore, infants’ brain connectivity may provide a unique predictor for the necessity of intervention, allowing healthcare providers to act in a timely manner.
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