Professors study emotional developments in infants

Mackenzie Mathews

College may well be the ultimate test for students’ social and emotional development, but psychological sciences professor Diane Lickenbrock is observing where that development begins: infancy.

“We’re interested in the development of emotion regulation beginning in infants,” Lickenbrock said. “I wanted to look at not only how infants contribute to that themselves, but also how parents contribute to that at the beginning of infancy.”

The study began last fall and works to examine infants’ social and emotional development at 4, 6 and 8 months old. It focuses on interactions between the child and both parents in order to discover how that relationship affects psychological growth.

Fort Campbell graduate student Angelica Soto said she likes what they could potentially learn from the study. 

“People have been looking at this for a while, but we may be able to add a new piece to it,” she said. 

Soto is in her first year of clinical studies.

Lickenbrock and her student assistants are using cardiac physiology to examine infants’ external and internal reactions to particular instances with their parents.

 For example, whenever a parent shifts from playful to serious, the team can observe the stress response of the child by measuring heart and respiration rates. Soto said babies with particular temperaments may react with a greater stress response. Researching through psychophysiology is a new facet of developmental research. 

Edmonton senior Laura Duncan said this study is different from others because the team is also observing fathers. 

“Whereas in past studies, it’s mainly mothers and infants,” Duncan said.

Fathers were added to the study as the importance of both parents’ involvement became increasingly emphasized. They strongly affect child development, Duncan said, making them important to observe as well.

Studies typically shy away from including fathers because it is difficult for both parents to find time to participate.

Families are recruited through community windows, such as daycare and doctors’ offices. Lickenbrock also speaks with pre-childbirth classes in order to contact families well before babies reach the study’s needed ages.

“We’re able to talk with families that are expecting,” Lickenbrock said. “Our study starts at 4 months old, so it’s important to contact them early.”

The goal is to reach 150 family participants. Since last year, the team has seen and scheduled 27 families. Lickenbrock said that number increases rapidly each semester. 

In order to maintain an authentic study, the findings thus far are not yet disclosed, but the researchers expect to take the results to conferences and later publish the information.  The study may help to explain some unknowns in current development information. 

“Hopefully, (future researchers) will be able to use what we’ve done and build off that and be able to answer more questions,” Soto said.