Yesterday morning Benji did more baby science at the UW’s ILABS. We’re on their list, and at many age milestones (in this case, 20 months) I get a call from somebody at ILABS doing some interesting brain research, asking for a test subject. I say yes every time, as long as I can schedule it around naptime.

A couple months ago (at 18 months, in fact) we went in and did a study on whether babies learn from watching videos on smartphones. In that study, Benji watched a video of a guy “playing” with four lame toys, then received those same toys and interacted with them. The toys were clearly made in-house. He didn’t think much of those toys, but we did get to take home a ball, so that wasn’t a total waste from his perspective.

I recap that study, because in yesterday’s study some of those same toys reappeared. Yesterday, however, the researchers were studying “emotional eavesdropping,” where a toddler watches an interaction between two people. The question was how much of the emotional content the kid picks up on – not an easy thing to measure in 20-month-olds, since they can’t tell you how they feel.

The researchers got around this by having two people have a conversation about a toy, and then giving the toy to the kid. The control group witnessed a neutral reaction, while the test group witnessed an angry/frustrated interaction. Benji was a control, for which I was glad; I’m pretty sure an angry exchange would have disturbed him.

Three of the toys the researchers played with and talked about were ones Benji had already seen in the earlier video study. He clearly remembered how to work them, and actually did much better at manipulating them, I assume because he was older. After we finished I told the researcher that he’d seen them before in that earlier study, and she said it had seemed like he was familiar with the toys. Apparently she noticed the facility with which he operated those unusual toys, and his interaction was different from other kids’. I just hope that prior experience didn’t invalidate his results in this study.

On our way out the door, we happened to see the video researcher, and I mentioned that Benji recognized and remembered the toys from her study. She seemed pleased, but a little concerned about messing up the emotional eavesdropping study. This, I suppose, is the risk of calling the same kid for lots of different studies in the same lab.

Anyway, Benji got to play with wheels in the waiting room and then, afterwards, we wandered around the parking garage rubbing filthy wheels. So not a total loss.

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