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Dr. Robertson's general research area is developmental psychobiology; he uses a range of techniques to address the relations between the mind and body during development. During the last ten years, Dr. Robertson has been focusing on mind-body relations during early infancy, particularly in the context of visual foraging.
During early infancy, when independent locomotion is not yet possible, visual foraging is an important way for infants to learn about the world. Using eye-tracking to record looking behavior and movement sensors to detect body movement, Dr. Robertson and his colleagues have demonstrated that decreases in body movement reliably occur during looks and increases in body movement reliably precede looks away. This suggests that spontaneous body movements may help infants to disengage their gaze and promote visual foraging.
Using a dynamical systems approach, Dr. Robertson and a colleague in the Center for Applied Mathematics have developed mathematical models of visual foraging. In this work they have found that a surprisingly simple model can mimic the behavior of young infants during extended periods of spontaneous looking and looking away.
Interestingly, these results leave open the question of the role of attention. As work with adults has shown, gaze does not necessarily reflect attention. It is possible, and in fact it frequently happens, that while we look at one object we are attending to another object or event. If spontaneous body movements help to unlock gaze, what role, if any, does attention play in this process? To explore this question, Dr. Robertson's lab is recording steady-state visual evoked potentials from infants to measure attention independently of gaze. Dr. Robertson and students have also been exploring ways to incorporate EEG measures in other ongoing research with infants and young children.
In collaboration with students, Dr. Robertson has recently collected follow-up data with children who participated in visual foraging experiments as infants. These preliminary data suggest that attention problems in childhood may be predicted by the coupling of attention and body movement during free looking in early infancy. He is currently following a larger cohort of children studied as infants to assess this provocative link.
principal investigator on
Human behavioral neuroscience
- Child care setting affects salivary cortisol and antibody secretion in young children. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 35:1156-1166. 2010
- Embodied infant attention. Developmental Science. 12:297-304. 2009
- Robust coupling of body movement and gaze in young infants. Developmental Psychobiology. 49:208-215. 2007
- Movement–attention coupling in infancy and attention problems in childhood. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. 47:660-665. 2005
- The dynamics of infant visual foraging. Developmental Science. 7:194-200. 2004
- Fetal cyclic motor activity in diabetic pregnancies: Sensitivity to maternal blood glucose. Developmental Psychobiology. 42:9-16. 2003
- The integration of body movement and attention in young infants. Psychological Science. 12:523-526. 2001
- Stability of coupled fluctuations in movement and visual attention in infants. Developmental Psychobiology. 39:99-106. 2001
- Structure and irregularity in the spontaneous behavior of young infants. Behavioral Neuroscience. 115:758-763. 2001
- Effects of warmth on newborn rats' motor activity and oral responsiveness to an artificial nipple. Behavioral Neuroscience. 115:675-682. 2001