Dr Haiko Ballieux
Recent work suggests that differences in functional brain development (e.g. attention control) are already identifiable in 6- to 9-month-old infants from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. These differences may causally mediate later difficulties in academic learning. Investigation of early SES-related differences in neuro-cognitive functioning requires the recruitment of large and diverse samples of infants, yet it is often difficult to persuade low-SES parents to come to a university setting. One solution is to recruit infants through early intervention Children’s Centres (CCs), which are often located in areas of high relative deprivation. I’ll report on a study involving 174 infants and their caregivers, carried out in partnership with CCs in East London, exploring the feasibility of this approach. I’ll briefly discuss participant recruitment, sample diversity, CC staff engagement in training, the assessment process, data quality, and engagement of caregivers and infants. I will further discuss some of the results of one of the eye-tracking tasks (the face pop-out effect). Finally, I will assess the feasibility of using computerized paradigms to train attention control in infants. Training-related improvements were found, relative to active controls, on tasks assessing visual sustained attention, saccadic reaction time, and rule learning, but not task switching. The overall conclusion is that this approach has great potential for recruiting large and diverse samples worldwide, provides sufficiently reliable data, and is engaging to staff, parents and infants.
I grew up in Maastricht and studied Developmental Psychology at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, where I graduated with an MSc in Developmental Psychology. I also did an MSc in Cognitive Science at the Cognitive Science Centre Amsterdam (Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies). In 2006 I moved to London for a Marie Curie PhD Fellowship at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD) at Birkbeck College, investigating object and action perception and imitation in infants. After my PhD I worked on a Nuffield Foundation funded project at the Babylab of the Institute for Research in Child Development (IRCD), University of East London (UEL). In this 3-year longitudinal project I took eye-tracking equipment into Sure Start Children’s Centres, to see whether individual differences in language and social communication in 6-month-olds correlate with the socio-economic background of the infants’ caregivers. At UEL I also lectured in Developmental Psychology, and worked on another Nuffield Foundation funded pilot project, delivering gaze-contingency (attention control) training to infants using eye tracking technology in Children’s Centres. I currently hold a permanent full-time Lecturer position at the University of Westminster (London), where I am Deputy Course Leader for the BSc Cognitive & Clinical Psychology, and module leader of the level 5 module 'Lifespan Development' and the level 6 module 'Advanced Developmental Psychology'.