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OpenPSYC is a free online resource for students in Introduction to Psychology courses. Use the links on the right to learn more about the site, visit a course module or search by keyword.

Cognitive Development Research Methods

The Problem with Studying Infants

Researchers have to be creative when they want to measure the cognition of an infant or small child.  The same methods used on adults will not work with infants.  For example, you cannot ask a baby to fill out a questionnaire about their preferences for one toy over another.  This requires some creative thinking.  You have already read about how infants and even fetuses are measured using heart rate and suckling behavior.  Here are a few more ways that infants and young children can be measured

Looking Behavior

Humans look at things that interest them.  They don't look at things that bore them.  Researchers use this to their own advantage in studying infants and small children.  Watch the following for an explanation:

Eye-tracking devices are now widely used to measure what children are looking at.  The following is a demonstration of eye-tracking data.  A baby just has to look at the screen.  The eye tracker will sense what the baby is looking at.  In the video, the red dot is what the child is looking at. This study shows the baby's expectations of where sound should be coming from and how it is made (pronounced).  

Visual Cliff

Sometimes, researchers want to study something more complex about how the baby or child interacts with the world.  This requires some more creativity.  Watch the following videos about the visual cliff and what it teaches us about how baby's understand their world.

And this one about the cliff and how baby's interact with adults.

These are just a few examples of how researchers have to be creative when studying infants and small children.  There are many others as well, but all of them create unique challenges and possibilities for gaining insights into how humans understand the world around them.