Best Start: Parent-Baby Playing Helps Build Brains

Photo Credit": Unsplash User  Kevin Liang

Photo Credit": Unsplash User Kevin Liang

The three Playing Builds Brains videos on the Best Start: Healthy Baby Healthy Brain website are between 2 – 6 minutes each. They show parents actively engaging with their babies and toddlers in “serve & return” interactions within the contexts of everyday play, sensory play, and language and numbers play.

The videos demonstrate practical applications of recent brain-development research, such as that in the Sam V. Wass et al, Parental neural responsivity to infants’ visual attention: How mature brains influence immature brains during social interaction, PLOS Biology (2018) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2006328 This study, published December 2018, which simultaneously recorded EEG data from 12-month-old infants and their mothers when they were playing separately or together with toys, demonstrates for the first time that when adults are engaged in joint play together with their infant, their own brains show bursts of high-frequency activity linked to their baby’s attention patterns rather than their own.

A December 18, 2018, Medicalxpress article interviewed Dr. Wass, who commented, “Most infants spend the majority of their waking hours in the company of others. But almost everything we know about early learning in the brain comes from studies looking at individual baby brains in isolation. By recording activity in a baby’s brain and their mother’s brain at the same time, we were able to see how changes in their brain activity reflected their own or each other’s behavior while they were playing together. We know that, when an adult plays jointly together with a child, this helps the child to sustain attention to things, but until now we haven’t really understood why this is. Our findings suggested that, when a baby pays attention to things, the adult’s brain tracks and responds to her infant’s looking behavior – as if her infant’s actions are echoed in the parent’s brain activity. And we also found that, where the parent’s brain is more responsive to the child, the child sustains their attention for longer.”