Recently I read an intriguing op-ed in the New York Times about babies and cognition.1 In it, the author cited two studies demonstrating how babies learn – not just by imitating others, but also by regarding information from their environment when doing so.
The first study was conducted in 1988 at the University of Washington. Fourteen-month old babies watched a woman do something strange. She tapped her head on a box, which then lit up. When the same babies returned a week later, they were shown the box and many immediately tapped their heads on it – one would suggest to make the light go on! In the second study, performed in 2002, researchers replicated the scene with a twist: half of the babies saw a woman whose hands were bound when she tapped the light with her head. When these babies were brought back in, many tapped the light with their hands. Researchers concluded these babies were somehow aware that hands – not heads – are for tapping. When available, that is.
Days after reading the article, I was giddy thinking of all the stimuli my baby is processing on a daily basis. I watched her closely, observing her eye movements and hand motions, pondering all the while, “what IS she thinking about?!” And then I got to thinking – we live in a university town. There must be at least one place, if not many places, dedicated to conducting the kind of research that eventually ends up cited in an op-ed one finds in the New York Times. If only I had…ah yes. The Internet!
A little surfing and a few mouse clicks led us to the Waisman Center. Located on the University of Wisconsin campus, the Waisman Center is a multi-disciplinary facility founded in 1973 and committed to learning about humans and what makes them work – and sometimes not work. From their website:
The Waisman Center is dedicated to advancing knowledge about human development, developmental disabilities, and neurodegenerative diseases through:
research spanning the biological, behavioral and social sciences;
training for students and post-doctoral fellows, providers, and the community;
service for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families;
outreach to the community.
This is exactly the kind of facility I was looking for. Because my child is still under one, we navigated to the online home for the Infant Learning Lab, the most logical place it seemed for her capabilities. Yet, Waisman’s topics of investigation span the gamut from behavior and language, to social development and the role of family in our development. With active investigations from 25 different university departments and needs for participants from infancy to adulthood, the Center likely has a study for anyone interested in taking part.
So why take part in a research study? Well for starters, without it, advancements in fields like science, behavior, learning, disease eradication, etc., etc., would not be possible! I would go as far to say that many of us have benefited from the discoveries of research without even realizing it. If you played music to your unborn child or read up on authoritative/authoritarian parenting or even take vitamins you have (ideally) been positively impacted by research.
My daughter and I have since participated in two studies, both involving infants and language. I won’t go into to detail in case you’re interested in participating, but suffice to say it was a rewarding and fun experience for both of us. At the very least, both days we spent on campus were sunny, cool days and we supplemented our experimentations with a little stroll about the beautiful UW grounds.
Currently, the Waisman Center is recruiting for studies about twins, infant language, and infant and child development, as well as much more. In addition to good feels about your contribution to the betterment of humankind, most studies offer modest compensation. When we participated in our study we were able to choose from $10 cash, a Bucky Badger t-shirt, or a book. So far, we’ve completed two studies and chosen two (highly recommended) board books: Boss Baby and Cu-Cu Bebe.
Want to take part in groundbreaking research? Visit the Waisman Center online or call 608.263.1656 for more information. For a complete list of studies, visit https://www.waisman.wisc.edu/pir-recruiting.htm.
*This is not a sponsored post. I have simply always been fascinated by the scientific process and the discoveries it yields for the benefit of humankind. I encourage you to check out the Waisman Center and possibly take part in a study, if it feels right for you! The lives you may benefit may be your own.