Involve your children from 0 to 6 years in scientific research

Because at Science and the Future we love science, even on the weekends, once is not customary: this article is born from a personal experience … On a sunny Saturday morning, the three of us go out with our six-month-old daughter. Head to the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) rue d’Ulm, in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, for a somewhat unusual family activity. It is one of the seven BabyLabs in France, where researchers specializing in the study of cognition of babies and children under 6 years of age work.

Voluntary participation that requires half an hour

It all started with a letter, received at home, in which the Parisian BabyLab requested registration of our daughter. “We are so lucky to be in collaboration with the National Register, which gives us the opportunity to contact parents of newborns“, explains Anne-Caroline Fiévet, head of BabyLab. A facility envied by the surrounding countries, for which the recruitment of items is more complicated. Registration is by e-mail or return mail, and does not commit to other than to receive proposals for participation in ongoing studies.

In BabyLab, the experience itself takes place in a large cube isolated from the rest of the room. Credit: Camille Gaubert.

A few weeks after enrolling our daughter, we received our first suggestion. It is a language acquisition work that we choose to participate in. Some surveys can be done from home, but this is not the case: We have to plan about half an hour on site – at a time of our choosing – including just under 5 minutes experiments that are effective with the baby.

ILLUSTRATED BABYLA DISCOVERIES. Does your screen time affect your child’s language learning? Does a bilingual child learn faster if the two languages ​​are the same? How to strengthen the language skills of a child with an autistic disorder? Find the answers to all these questions and many more on the Kotoboo website, run by volunteer and passionate language acquisition researchers based on the scientific discoveries of BabyLabs.

A chair in front of a screen

In the lab, a pair of monitors are stuck across a desk next to a large cube large enough for a few adults to enter. A real piece in a room, it is decorated with dozens of animal stickers that make its appearance less impressive. Inside, with walls covered in black fabric, a simple chair faces a screen to accommodate a parent with their baby on their lap.

The interior of the BabyLab experiment room. Credit: Camille Gaubert.

With headphones on, so as not to risk affecting their offspring, the parent quietly listens to music, while the screen shows shapes accompanied by sounds to the baby’s attention. In front of the computers outside the cabin, the researchers can follow the child’s gaze. “It is believed that when the child looks away after staring at the screen for a moment, it means that it is not interested in what is happening there, that it has walked around“, explains Anne-Caroline Fiévet. At this moment, the researcher changes what is on the screen and will, if the baby is able to perceive the difference, observe a renewed interest. It is from this postulate that is built the experiment, which about 40 different babies must see before the results can be analyzed. Purpose: to understand whether babies form associations between sound and image from a very young age.

“No screen before the age of 3”, the health authorities insist. But let parents be reassured: If this recommendation can be applied when it comes to prolonged and passive exposure (such as the television running in the background at home), science is much more nuanced. Small dose screens can even serve as a learning aid when interacting with the adult, and therefore the few minutes to be used for the study will not have a negative impact on the child.

Outside the isolated experimental room, the researchers follow the child’s gaze thanks to cameras. Credit: Camille Gaubert.

If the recruitment of babies happens primarily thanks to the letters, the researchers from BabyLabs can also simply be contacted by email, which can be found on their respective websites (see list below). And as a reward, in addition to the satisfaction of having been useful for scientific research and fond memories, you will leave with a nice diploma in the name and with the picture of your child!


BabyLab from Ecole Normale Supérieure
BabyLab from Paris Cité University

NeuroKidsLab in Gif-Sur-Yvette
BabyLab from Paris Nanterre University

Lyon BabyLab
Grenoble BabyLab
BabyLab Aix-Marseille University

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