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Skidmore College

Baby's-eye view

July 21, 2017

“Understanding how children learn, and especially how they learn language, is a critical public health issue,” says Skidmore psychology professor Jessica Sullivan. Language skills underpin academic success, which is associated later in life with several markers of good health. While psychologists have known for years that young children learn from what they see and hear in daily life, they haven’t known how best to code and quantify those everyday perceptual inputs.

Prof. Jessica Sullivan
Early-childhood cognition
researcher Jessica Sullivan

Sullivan came up with an innovative method, and now she’s earned a two-year, $147,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to share its results with other scientists. Those results contain 325 hours of video collected in New York, California, and Australia as part of a project led by Sullivan and colleagues Michael Frank at Stanford and Amy Perfors at the University of Adelaide. The researchers fitted babies with small head-mounted cameras that recorded everything they saw and heard, for two and a half hours per week, as they grew into toddlerhood. In addition to capturing the sights and sounds encountered by the babies over two years, the researchers gathered cognitive, social, and linguistic measures along the way. Sullivan says, “This dataset is the first of its kind and is unique in its size, scope and perspective.”

The NIH funding will allow her—alongside Skidmore students—to label, transcribe, and post the videos on Databrary, a repository funded by the NIH and the National Science Foundation.

There other scientists can search particular activities, locations, family members and objects in the videos and also use the footage in their own research.

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