One of the procedures we use in our research is the measurement of brain activity using an EEG (electroencephalogram). For this we use a sort of high-tech swimming cap, which can pick up the small electrical waves that are produced by the baby’s brain. The cap itself is made of soft, stretchy material and has electrodes sewn into it. The electrodes in the cap function a little like a microphone in picking up the activity of the brain. This procedure is used in various research centres around the world to find out more about various aspects of young children’s development.
Why do we measure brain activity? When babies look, for example, at a picture or listen to language or even when they are just observing other people around them, particular patterns can be observed in the brain. Because very young children are not yet able to tell us how they perceive other people or what it’s like to listen to speech, it’s difficult to find out how early cognitive development works, but with the help of this type of procedure, we are able to gain more insight into early development processes.
These experiments are carried out in our lab at the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (DCCN) in Nijmegen. The DCCN was set up specifically for brain research, and one of the rooms in this institute forms part of the Baby Research Center and is specially equipped for research with babies.
Before the experiment starts you will be given detailed information about what will happen and are also given the opportunity to ask questions. During this time, your child can play and and at the same time become accustomed to both the lab and the researcher. After this, the researcher will begin preparing your child for the experiment. This involves placing the EEG cap (the “high-tech” swimming cap) on your child’s head and fastening it under his or her chin. To ensure that there is good contact between the cap and your child’s skin, after lightly cleaning the skin, a kind of gel is inserted into the holes in the cap where the sensors are located that will pick up the brain activity. Although putting the cap on may feel a little strange for your child, normally it is no problem as he or she is entertained and distracted with some toys. This preparation lasts about 15 minutes.
The experiment itself is carried out in a separate room. Your child will sit in a child seat while you sit next to him or her. The researcher sits in the adjoining room from where he or she runs the experiment and can also see your child. Your child will see pictures, watch a short film or listen to words or sentences while his or her brain activity is monitored. During the experiment, you may be asked to listen to music via headphones so that you will not influence your child in any way. The experiment can be paused at any time and of course will be ended if your child is no longer interested. The actual experiment is thus very much like those done in the Montessorilaan lab, except that your child wears an EEG cap during this experiment.