Bath Babylab to explore how young children see and interact with the world

A new facility at the University of Bath will officially open its doors this weekend (Saturday 24 June) at a public event to showcase the work of the Bath Babylab.

Led by University-based child development expert Dr Rachael Bedford, the Bath Babylab will explore how infants and young children see and interact with the world around them, considering what factors impact their development.

It builds on a number of research projects the University has been involved in over recent years, including the impacts of screen time on children’s cognitive development. At the Babylab, using specialist eye-tracking software, the team can assess how screen time influences children’s attention.

A 2021 study from Dr Bedford and colleagues found that toddlers who regularly use touchscreens may be more distractible. Their latest longitudinal research suggests that high screen use may also be linked to difficulties with executive functions, making it harder for children to control their actions.

Other research areas to be explored by the Bath Babylab include factors influencing language development and language delay among children. Significant numbers of children are thought to experience delays in language learning, yet many children will never receive a diagnosis or see a speech and language therapist.

We know that a child’s early environment is important in influencing how they learn and develop. Our research at the Bath Babylab aims to understand factors which influence how children pay attention, sleep and learn language.

One recent change to children’s early environment has been the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets, which allow even very young children to interact with digital media. Understanding the impacts of this on infant and toddler cognitive development is a key aim of our research.

We aim to understand whether similar factors predict development in neurodiverse populations – for example, in children with autism or ADHD. Our hope is that through in-depth research we can provide an evidence base to help parents and carers make informed decisions.”

Dr Rachael Bedford, Lead, Bath Babylab

The team involved in the Babylab includes cognitive development expert Dr Nathalia Gjersoe. Dr Gjersoe was involved in the BBC series ‘Babies: Their Wonderful World’ and was also one of the key scientific advisors for the Apple TV series ‘Becoming You’. This looked at how our first 2,000 days shapes the rest of our life.

She added: “I am so excited about the launch of the Bath Babylab. The facilities are based in a beautiful, cutting-edge research suite designed to maximize the fun and comfort of the children and families involved. We now have the capacity to explore and answer a wide range of critical questions about not just what impacts on the lives of babies and children, but also how these early influences shape the adolescents and adults they become.”