SPROUT: The Significance of the Paternal Relationship on child OUTcomes

 As parents, you play a very important role in your child’s development. You help shape how and what your child learns. Most of what we know about the role of parents in child development comes from studies with mothers.  Today, fathers often spend as much time with their children as mothers. We therefore want to learn about the ways in which fathers are important for their child’s development. The focus of our study is on how children develop language and learn how to solve problems. We are interested in finding out about the ways in which fathers talk to and play with their children and how this supports their child’s learning. Families that visit our lab are given toys to play with and certain tasks to do together. We observe the behaviours of father and child as they play with one another in order to find out how these patterns of interaction support their child’s development over time.


PANDA – Psychological and Neurodevelopmental Assessment of Neonatal Encephalopathy

 Neonatal Encephalopathy (NE) is a neurological condition that may arise in an infant from the 36th week of pregnancy through to childbirth. Affecting approximately 3 in 1000 births per year, it is suggested that the effect of NE on a child’s development is variable. NE is still not fully understood, with many gaps in our understanding on its cause and influence on development.  At the Infant and Child Research Lab, our aim is to extend and clarify our understanding of those who have experienced NE. Combining gold-standard developmental assessment, with rich data derived from the observation and analysis of parent-infant interactions, we hope to refine the developmental prognosis of those affected by the condition and to facilitate future intervention as early in life as possible.  In affiliation with the HRB Neonatal Encephalopathy PhD Training Network (NEPTuNE), this project is the first to combine the multidisciplinary efforts of collaborators from leading research departments and maternity hospitals across the Republic of Ireland, including University College Cork (UCC), National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD). The group aims to combine biological and medical data with the behavioural interactions established here at the Infant and Child Research Lab, with a hope to answer the many questions that both parents and researchers still have surrounding NE.  


DIAMOND:  Dyadic InterAction in Down SyndroMe & Outcomes for NeuroDevelopment

We have teamed up with the National Children’s Hospital and TCD’s School of Medicine to study the profile of strengths and weaknesses in children with Down Syndrome (DS). We are especially interested in looking at how parents may support learning in children with DS. Scientists have found that parenting has an important part in the development of children without DS, such as for language. However, this has not been studied equally in Down Syndrome.  Despite a common genetic cause, each child with Down Syndrome is unique. Although there are common traits, such as their sparkling personalities, these traits blend together differently for each child.  Support for learning difficulties allows many to lead broader and semi-independent lives. Others may need higher levels of care and support. Children with DS may also face health challenges that can affect their development. Because of this diversity, it is hard to predict how a child with DS may develop in the future. This can make the role of parenting seem complicated and unfamiliar.  We hope to investigate the role of the parent further to understand how parents and early intervention therapists may support the development of children with DS. 

Current Research

In the lab we are interested in studying the developmental environments of infants and children and how they relate to aspects of child development.  We use primarily structured observation of interactions, supported by classic infant and child testing paradigms, to study the relationship between interaction and developmental outcomes, especially language acquisition and development, emotional development, parenting and family systems. You can find details about studies currently running in the lab below.

PETIT: Preterm Infant Interaction and Development

A longitudinal project examining Parent-Infant Interaction in the context of preterm infant development.  Preterm birth (≤ 36 weeks gestation) represents a growing public health concern, accounting for more than 11% of live births worldwide. With medical advances, more infants born earlier than ever before are surviving extensive stays in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). As they grow, infants born preterm experience a higher risk of developmental difficulties but we are only beginning to understand the pathways that lead to these difficulties, especially when infants often appear healthy upon discharge from the NICU. The first goal is to track the development of a sample of preterm infants beyond the early months of life into the third and fourth years.  The second aim is to characterise preterm infant-parent interactions as quality of interaction is an important predictor of developmental outcomes. The influence of neurobiological risk, such as that which may arise from preterm birth, may disrupt parent-infant interaction and influence the course of development. To date, there is limited research on interactional patterns in this context and we have yet to specifically characterise the nature of the input for these infants in interaction.

CoParenting and child socioemotional development

The question of how mothers and fathers interact with their babies, and how these interactions relate to later development has been a focus of considerable research in psychology.  In this study, we are interested in understanding whether or how the interactions that one parent has with his/her baby changes when the other parent is present. Parents may adapt their roles to accommodate the role of the other parent and the way in which parents do this is known as ‘co-parenting’. For example, fathers may be more hands-on when interacting alone with their baby, but may take a back seat if the mother is in the room also. Children may direct particular behaviours towards one parent, but may change their behaviour if the other parent is present.  Within this study, we are interested in understanding these co-parenting patterns, and how these patterns relate to children’s development.