Making eye contact with an infant makes adults' and babies' brainwaves 'get in sync' with each other – which is likely to support communication and learning – according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.
Researchers at the Baby-LINC Lab at the University of Cambridge carried out a study to explore whether infants can synchronize their brainwaves to adults too and whether eye contact might influence this.
The team examined the brainwave patterns of 36 infants (17 in the first experiment and 19 in the second) using electroencephalography (EEG), which measures patterns of brain electrical activity via electrodes in a skullcap worn by the participants. They compared the infants' brain activity to that of the adult who was singing nursery rhymes to the infant.
As anticipated, the researchers found that infants' brainwaves were more synchronized to the adults' when the adult's gaze met the infant's, as compared to when her gaze was averted Interestingly, the greatest synchronizing effect occurred when the adults' head was turned away but her eyes still looked directly at the infant. The researchers say this may be because such a gaze appears highly deliberate, and so provides a stronger signal to the infant that the adult intends to communicate with her.
Dr. Victoria Leong, lead author on the study said: “When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signaling their availability and intention to communicate with each other.
"We found that both adult and infant brains respond to a gaze signal by becoming more in sync with their partner.
"This mechanism could prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronizing when to speak and when to listen, which would also make learning more effective.”