Baby Lab studies attention and language development

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Babies are fascinating and, in some ways, mysterious little humans. Researchers at the K.U. Edwards Campus in Overland Park are focusing on how babies' attention to information promotes early language development.

The heart rate leads go onto June Luckey's chest, making her a pint-sized participant in research. She's in the Baby Lab on the K.U. Edwards Campus. June and her mom then watch videos. Some have objects while others have a human or the close-to-human Sesame Street gang. June is really paying attention to that video.

"We think that how she pays attention to people, in particular, is going to help us predict how she's gonna be communicating before she has words with eye contact and gestures, but also how she's going to learn words," said Dr. Brenda Salley, a licensed clinical psychologist.

K.U. students go over the video of a baby later, measuring how long the baby focuses and how she shifts her attention. The students also look at the heartrate which is why June wore the leads. A slow heart rate means the baby is processing information well.

The study of babies 6 to 12 months started last year and will continue for another year, so there are no results yet.

"But, in general, we know babies who are more efficient in their processing -- so they watch something and they are quickly learning what they're seeing and they're able to move on and process other things -- are more efficient at learning words," said Dr. Salley.

She said knowing those early signs will help doctors identify babies who are more likely to have language delays, and those babies could then receive early help.

Language doesn't seem to be a problem for June who's 12 months old.

"She actually just started saying mama like last week. That was really exciting because before it was the dada, dogdog kind of sounds," said Anna Luckey.

June's focus could be a good sign that her language will blossom.

The researchers are looking for a hundred more babies for the study. To learn more, go to Facebook at KUbabylab or email babylab@ku.edu. You may also call 913-897-8590.

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