UT Center to Study Infant Development

KNOXVILLE — A new University of Tennessee research laboratory will examine how infants develop memory and learn rules.

Dr. Tara Wass, UT assistant professor of Child and Family Studies, said UT’s Infant Developmental Research Center, which she directs, would launch three studies in April.

“In each study, the child will watch a series of brightly colored

Dr. Tara Wass

pictures of things like balls, squares and faces on a computer monitor,” Wass said. “While the child watches the pictures, we simply videotape their eye movements.”

Wass said the experiments could help document normal development of memory and learning. These baseline findings might help scientists identify developmental problems during early infancy, she said.

In the first study, called the “rule change” study, babies watch a series of pictures that appear according to a rule. Researchers will monitor how the rule affects the child’s performance and how the infants respond to changes in the rule.

The second, or “working memory development” study, examines how working memory changes over the first year of life. It examines how long infants can hold information in memory before it begins to disappear, Wass said.

The “rule learning” study examines whether infants can learn to associate a cue with a rule, such as a red circle that indicates images will appear on the left side of the screen. Researchers will determine if infants can discriminate between cues and predict where pictures will appear, Wass said.

“Results from the studies are analyzed and presented at professional conferences, published in professional journals and posted on the center’s web site,” Wass said. “We never identify individual children in any of these forums. Rather, we present data that summarizes the performance of groups of infants.”

The research involves babies from 8 weeks to 9 months old and takes place in 116 Jessie Harris Building at UT, she said. Future studies will focus on infants with special needs and brain development of the fetus during pregnancy.

Families will be able to watch their children participate in the studies, which takes 10-20 minutes, and will be paid $10, Wass said.

Parents may call 974-9228 or e-mail the center at idrc@utk.edu to schedule an appointment or learn more about the research.