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Science Nation: Baby Smiles Provide Clues to Healthy Development

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. A woman smiles at a baby.

[explosion]

[gasps] Hi, cutie pie!

(male narrator) Four-month-old Timothy and his mom, Kimberly Laurent, may look like they're doing what moms and babies do.

(Describer) A man holds up a portable fan.

I'm getting his attention to this camera.

(narrator) But with support from the National Science Foundation, psychology professor Daniel Messinger and his colleagues at the University of Miami are watching closely to learn more about healthy child development, analyzing a baby's every smile, coo, and eye movement.

(Messinger) We believe that, through interacting, babies learn early social rules-- when to take turns with their vocalizations, when to smile at the same time.

(narrator) In this experiment, mom and baby play, then mom stops. We want to see if the baby either tries to reengage the mom or looks away and disengages, and then they'll start playing again.

(narrator) They precisely measure both the mom's and the baby's facial expressions.

(Describer) Dots and lines cover their faces on video.

(Messinger) The key for us is to use those measurements to better understand how interaction occurs.

(Describer) With another pair of test subjects...

(Messinger) Here, the mom is smiling more than the baby. And she peaks there.

(narrator) Messinger says being comfortable looking away from mom is one sign of healthy development.

(Messinger) Near six months of age, they're more interested in looking at things that are not the parent.

(narrator) Moms love the research with their baby scientists.

(woman) It's cool to be involved in something like this

(Describer) Bianca Graves:

and know that he contributed to science.

(Messinger) The neatest part of this all is using developing technology to understand what mothers and babies already understand, which is each other and how to respond to one another.

(narrator) Messinger's team also works with babies at high risk for autism-- those with a sibling already diagnosed. Finding children who are at risk, who are beginning to show behaviors that might be indicative of the development of symptoms allows us to refer those kids to appropriate intervention earlier.

[fussing]

(Describer) A baby is pulled from a harness.

(narrator) From the mouths of babes, insights to put kids on track for a healthy future.

(Describer) A globe turns.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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For as long as parents and babies have been smiling, laughing, and cooing at each other, scientists still have a lot of questions about just how these interactions help infants develop. With support from the National Science Foundation, University of Miami psychology professor Daniel Messinger and his colleagues want to learn more about child development by studying how moms, dads, and babies respond to each other. Part of the National Science Foundation Series “Science Nation.”

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12