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.

 


How do children learn and master new skills? 

Toddlers are curious and inquisitive. They learn by exploring the world around them and interacting with new objects which come into their environment. When confronted with a challenging new toy, toddlers act like ‘little scientists’. They come up with theories about how the toy works and test these ideas as they play. We are interested in finding out about what drives toddlers to make these types of discoveries. Like adults, children each have their own motivational style. We all differ in how driven we are to master a new skill. In childhood, we may be more or less interested in continuing to play with a toy once we realise that it is very difficult.

Although motivation in toddlers could be influenced by a lot of things such as temperament (or personality), one of the things which could be important is the feedback children hear when they play with adults. Some types of feedback might motivate toddlers more than others, and some types of feedback might even demotivate them. On the other hand, toddlers may be driven by different factors entirely. Finding out more about the factors which motivate toddlers could be useful to parents and early childcare professionals.

 


What is unique about father-child interaction?

The importance of fathers for all aspects of their child’s development has been recognised for decades now, but there is still a lot to find out about the unique contribution fathers make to their child’s early social, emotional and language development in particular.   Most research has focused on mother yet sensitive, nurturing and cognitively stimulating interactions between fathers and their children are also associated with child social, cognitive and language outcomes.  With changes in family structures and dynamics happening across society, we need to capture the unique contribution of fathers to their children’s development.  For example, it has been shown that fathers use more complex and challenging language in their exchanges with their young children and in this way can facilitate the development of communicative skills. Our aim is to pinpoint the ways in which fathers differ from mothers as conversational partners to their toddlers and how father’s communicative style helps children learn and develop new skills.  We are interested in studying the specific patterns of father-child interactions and how fathers’ behaviour and unique interaction styles influence their child’s development. This will involve structured observation methods to observe, measure and analyse in detail how infants, children and their parents react and respond to each other in real-time naturalistic interaction and play, and further how these patterns of interaction relate to their child’s development.


Does the presence of mothers influence how fathers interact with their children?

 

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.