The School has a vibrant community of researchers working on all aspects of child development, from the early origins of consciousness and cognition to language development, social and mental health.
Take a tour below of recent published research highlights, our cohort studies and active research:
The Infant and Child Research Laboratory
Drs Jean Quigley and Elizabeth Nixon head up our Infant and Child Research laboratory. The lab is a child-friendly, purpose-built space dedicated to conducting observational research with infants, children, and their families. They study the developmental environments of infants and children and how they relate to aspects of child development. Using observational methodology, supported by classic infant and child testing paradigms, they study associations between parent-child interactions and developmental outcomes, especially language acquisition and development, emotional and social development, and cognition and executive functioning. For more information on ongoing projects in the lab, visit http://www.infantandchildresearchlab.com/ .
Imaging the Infant Brain
Dr Rhodri Cusack studies how the brain and mind develop in young infants using neuroimaging with MRI. By scanning awake infants while they watch pictures and movies, his team can measure the development of brain function at just two-months old. The brain activity is then compared to the predictions of different computational models of learning. Furthermore, the team uses MRI to study how brain development is disrupted by brain injury by recruiting infants from the neonatal intensive care unit, who are at higher risk of developing cognitive impairments, with collaborators Drs Eleanor Molloy and Adrienne Foran from the Coombe and Rotunda maternity hospitals.
Child Psychological Health & Wellbeing
Dr Lorraine Swords leads a research programme at Trinity that centres on children' s psychological health and wellbeing. She has particular interest in peer interactions in the context of physical or mental health conditions in childhood and adolescence, focusing on help-seeking, help-giving and stigmatizing responses. More information on her recent paper with colleagues Eilis Hennessy and Caroline Heary, ‘ Qualitative methods advancing research into the expression and experience of stigma in childhood and adolescence’ can be found here
Lorraine is a board member of Trinity Research in Childhood Centre (TRiCC), an interdisciplinary initiative to integrate and promote research in all aspects of childhood and children’ s biological, psychological, cognitive and socio-emotional development and well-being. Click here for more information on TRiCC’ s members and their research activities.
Earliest Origins of Consciousness
One of the great frontiers of consciousness science is understanding how early consciousness arises in the development of the human infant. Accounts of the ontogeny of consciousness can be divided into two broad camps: ‘ early-onset’ views, which locate the emergence of consciousness at, or shortly after, birth, and ‘ late-onset’ views, which locate the emergence of consciousness significantly after birth. The lack of language and the very limited motor function preclude self-report or behavioural responses and, thus, prevent the direct assessment of conscious awareness in neonates at birth. To sidestep these limitations, the research group of Lorina Naci asks the foundational question of understanding the capacity for conscious experience in neonates: Are the brain mechanisms of conscious awareness instantiated in infants from birth? We draw inspiration from our recent work on the detection of consciousness in other challenging conditions, such as deeply anaesthetized patients or individuals with severe brain damage.
Behavior Analysis and Learning
Dr. Olive Healy studies how children with complex needs learn and how their behavioural repertoires change across developmental spans. She has a particular interest in the application of findings to neurodevelopmental conditions including ASD/ID conducting research that addresses intervention and lifelong learning by engaging in a fully integrated approach linking basic and clinical research. Her goals are to conduct early-stage research in areas of unmet clinical need including ‘ very early’ therapeutic psychosocial interventions and strategies targeted at prevention and de-escalation of distressed behaviour. Her research programmes are typically carried out in community settings/clinics/hospitals. An example of a recent paper can be found here.
Olive currently leads InterAcT (Accomplish & Thrive) developing assistive technology software platforms supporting autistic people and individuals with intellectual disability interact.adaptcentre.ie. Individuals engage with the technology to “ face their fears” , acquire new skills and learn to cope better with challenging environments. Although psychosocial behavioural solutions prevail, InterAcT innovates the process and delivery through ubiquitous access and instantaneous analysis and reporting capabilities. InterAcT will change the way autistic people and those with intellectual disability approach the intervention process.
STATE OF THE ART FACILITIES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE DEVELOPING MIND
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows the measurement of how brain function typically develops, and how this is disrupted by brain injury or by developmental disorders. The Trinity College Institude of Neuroscience has a state-of-the-art Siemens 3T PRISMA scanner, installed in 2019, which is capable of rapid, quieter brain imaging. Many aspects of the developing brain are being measured, including its anatomy, and with fMRI, the activity in brain networks evoked by a task.
EEG and OPM-MEG
We have three electroencephalography (EEG) testing rooms that can measure the tiny electrical signals on the scalp as infants engage in a task. In 2024, we will install a new type of optically pumped magnetoencephalography (OPM MEG) which provides a more sensitive way to measure these.
EyeLink and Tobii eye trackers can be used to monitor infant and child looking behaviour, which has proven a powerful way to obtain many insights into the development of cognitive functions. For example, infants look more when something unexpected happens, and this has been used to show that at a young age they understand the idea of gravity (i.e., things shouldn’ t float) and have theory of mind (i.e., that what other people know is different from what they know).
FACILITIES IN ARAS AN PHIARSAIGH
The Infant and Child Research Lab comprises two rooms: a lightly painted playroom covered with a cushioned wipeable floor, equipped with two adjustable wall-mounted cameras and a microphone, and an adjoining control room, equipped with computers loaded with the Mangold software suite (VideoSyncPro and INTERACT) for observational research. The cameras can be controlled from the control room. Activity in the playroom is recorded using VideoSyncPro software which merges recordings from two wall-mounted adjustable cameras and a professionally calibrated Beyer Dynamic MPC 66 V SW 12– 84 V microphone connected to a XENYX 802 audio-mixer. Interact allows users to code and analyse the multimedia observational data recorded using VideoSyncPro or from a separate imported video file and is the primary coding and analysis tool used in the lab.
In addition to AV equipment, the lab has facilities to gather independent sensory (cardiovascular and eye tracking) data to support relational psychophysiological research, including a MangoldVision System Package (comprising VT3 mini eye tracker, adaptable to any monitor according to needs and MangoldVision software) and high quality physiology recording device and sensors (ProComp 5 Infinity Series, 1 sync sensor, 2 sets BVP sensors, physiology suite software, and Mangold VideoSyncPro specific module).
Check out our latest publications in Developmental Psychology
Ataman-Devrim, M., Nixon, E., & Quigley, J. (2023). Joint attention episodes during interactions with fathers but not mothers at age 2 years is associated with expressive language at 3 years. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 226, 105569.
Zaadnoordijk, L., Besold, T. R., & Cusack, R. (2022). Lessons from infant learning for unsupervised machine learning. Nature Machine Intelligence, 4(6), 510-520.
Scully, M., Swords, L., & Nixon, E. (2023). Social comparisons on social media: Online appearance-related activity and body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 40(1), 31-42.
Hu, H., Cusack, R., & Naci, L. (2022). Typical and disrupted brain circuitry for conscious awareness in full-term and preterm infants. Brain communications, 4(2), fcac071.
Nally, A., Holloway, J., Lydon, H., & Healy, O. (2021). A randomized controlled trial of Headsprout on the reading outcomes in children with autism using parents as facilitators. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 14(4), 944-957.
Pan, P. M., Sato, J. R., Paillè re Martinot, M. L., Martinot, J. L., Artiges, E., Penttilä , J., ... & IMAGEN Consortium. (2022). Longitudinal trajectory of the link between ventral striatum and depression in adolescence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 179(7), 470-481.
Ramey, D., Healy, O. & McEnaney, E. (2023). Defining and Measuring Indices of Happiness and Unhappiness in Children Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Behavior Analysis in Practice 16, 194– 209. https: //doi.org/10.1007/s40617-022-00710-y