Plymouth Babylab celebrates ten years of enhancing understanding of child development

A research facility established to generate greater understanding of our earliest childhood developments is marking ten years of working with families in Plymouth.

The Plymouth Babylab was created at the University of Plymouth in 2006, joining a small number of pioneering facilities around the UK.

Since then it has developed a database of around 6,000 families, conducting a range of research into child development characteristics such as behaviours and language acquisition.

The Babylab was the brainchild of Dr Caroline Floccia, Associate Professor (Reader) in the University’s School of Psychology. She said:

“The goal of developmental psychology, and therefore Babylabs, is to try and develop an understanding of what makes us as humans so competent in such a short space of time. How do we go from being so vulnerable as infants to suddenly having such active functioning memories and cognition, often in a matter of just months? That quest for knowledge continues to drive us, along with the hope our work could make a positive and lasting difference to families across the UK.”

In its first year the Babylab hosted visits from around 50 families, but a decade later that has gone up to 600 as its range of projects – and awareness of its work – grows.

Its reputation has also expanded considerably and led to research collaborations with, among others, the University of Oxford and, more recently, an international initiative led by Stanford University.

Among its most high profile research was a study which showed five-month-old infants were more likely to recognise words spoken in the dialect of their local communities than those used by their parents.

There has been work exploring the importance of vowels and consonants in infants’ recognition and development of language, and research into the way toddlers acquire sharing tendencies.

Arguably its biggest project began in 2013, when the Babylab won a grant of more than £800,000 to lead research which has seen Plymouth and the University of Oxford working on the first major study of language development among toddlers in bilingual families. The first major outcome from that collaboration is due to be released in early 2017.

Dr Floccia added:

“Since the Babylab was set up, we have created some amazing opportunities for our researchers to work in complex areas of child developmental psychology. We also have a number of students who work with us, and it is incredibly enriching for them as they can put the lessons they learn from their degrees straight into practice. That is obviously something that will continue as we move into our second decade of working with new parents and families.”

A decade of the Babylab - a parent's view

Leigh Stocker and her daughter Jessica, from Ivybridge, have visited the Plymouth Babylab to participate in 14 different studies in recent years. Leigh said:

“Jessica has just started school and especially enjoyed a recent study looking at how she could learn French using a tablet. But the fondest memories I have are seeing Jessica’s brain activity being recorded while she was listening to vowels and consonants when she was 11 months old. I have always been interested in helping the research, as well as seeing how Jessica’s interest and knowledge has grown over the years, and she often asks when we are going to return, as we both enjoyed our Babylab visits so much.”

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