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The first five years of a child’s life are marked by considerable change—both physiological and psychological. Young children undergo incremental development in their ability to think and solve problems, their emotions, and their linguistic abilities, to name just a few developmental changes. Over time, the rapidity and extent of this development vary by individual, even among children of the same age. For these reasons, research techniques and tools must be adopted that are suitable for the participant’s age group. In this constantly evolving segment of the physiological and psychophysiological field, new approaches and technologies are being implemented with the needs of our youngest participants in mind.

Different Needs, New Approaches

A recent article published by researchers at the University of California Irvine outlined some of the challenges in conducting research within the neonatal to toddler age groups. Chief among these was the higher levels of attrition among these groups compared to older test subjects. Much of this can be linked to the general characteristics of the test group—reduced ability to sit still for long periods of time, shorter attention span, and lack of motivation to participate. While these factors may not surprise an experienced parent or childcare provider, they can throw a wrench into any study that has not taken such challenges into account.

Tools for Toddlers

Choosing the right tools and applying them appropriately in the lab setting can not only significantly improve attrition rates, but also the quality of data. Receiving a clear, uninterrupted signal when gathering data from a research participant is challenging under the best of conditions and can seem insurmountable when it involves a potentially fussy, fidgety young child or infant. Thankfully, research tools and technologies have been developed with our youngest participants in mind. These include electrodes for infants that are not only sized appropriately but also designed not to irritate sensitive skin, as well as infant-sized EEG caps that are comfortable enough to be worn for extended periods and secure to prevent excess movement and signal loss.

Combining Technique with Technology

Dyadic ResearchSome researchers have found the best approach to tackling the challenges presented by these youngest participants is a combination of age-appropriate strategies and specialized equipment. A 2020 dyadic study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience examined the Effects of Maternal Singing Style on Mother-Infant Arousal and Behavior by using skin conductance (SC) levels as a measure of arousal in both the mother and infant participants. Both participants were fitted with pre-gelled electrodes attached to BioNomadix wireless EDA transmitters, which are less cumbersome than a fully wired solution. While the mother’s electrodes were attached at the neck, the infants were attached to the foot and secured in place with paper medical tape and covered with a sock. This ensured the electrodes would be held securely in place and reduce movement that could negatively impact signal quality.

We have only scratched the surface of the tools and strategies available for conducting lab research on very young participants. For additional information, watch our webinar on Research and Best Practices for Recording from Newborns, Infants, and Toddlers.

For additional information on research tools for young participants, contact your local BIOPAC sales representative.

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