The Psychophysiology Laboratory is using eye tracker and EEG technology to bolster the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center's mission to unlock the mysteries of development and learning.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is a harmless method used to measure brain activity by mapping faint electical signals emitted by the brain.
EEG lab participants and their families undergo an exciting new learning experience. First, the lab staff conducts parent interviews to inform parents of the purpose of the study, to collect important information about the EEG participant (birthdate, medication, etc.) and to provide a lab tour. Meanwhile, EEG participants are invited to play, to have their head measured for the perfect EEG net fit, and to complete a fun "Are you left or right-handed?" exercise. After everything is complete, the EEG data are collected.
Collecting data from children can be challenging. In our lab, thematic play has been a big hit. Children have enjoyed our castle theme which includes rolling out the red carpet (literally) and sitting in the "royal throne." Children can also wear special capes as if he or she were royalty! The second testing room is space-themed, complete with an inflatable toy rocket and glow in the dark stars
While seated in the testing room chair, participants will have the net placed and adjusted to fit (10-15 minutes). Once the participant has been comforted into sitting still and remaining quiet, the EEG collection begins. For visual studies, participants are presented pictures on a video screen directly in front of them. For auditory studies, participants watch silent videos during data collection while sounds are presented overhead. At least one other familiar person will accompany the participant during the testing procedures and parents are encouraged to observe the session(s).
Once testing is complete, the lab staff can take pictures of the EEG participant, providing the parent approves, and make copies of the photo available to the family. Then the participant gets to choose a toy from the lab toy chest for a job well done.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects a child's ability to communicate, to form relationships with others, and to respond appropriately with the environment. Vanderbilt researchers are interested in studying the social skills of children with autism, more specifically Initiated Joint Attention (IJA), which is the use of communicative behaviors to share interest or positive affect about an object with another person. In this study, researchers use EEG to study the brain waves of children with autism. The EEG represents electrical activity recorded at the surface of the scalp. One benefit of this research technique is that children are not required to actively respond. They simply watch a slow moving video, designed to elicit a restful state for optimal data collection. Previous research has shown that electrical activity recorded at the surface of frontal regions of the scalp in the alpha frequency predict IJA six months later in typically developing children. In this study, researchers are interested in replicating the same finding between the alpha frequency and IJA in children with autism.
Prader-Willi syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation on chromosome 15 that may lead to a variety of behavioral and neurological issues including learning disabilities or mental retardation, hypotonia, short stature, and an involuntary desire to overeat. Vanderbilt scientist, Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., is examining brain responses to visual stimuli of food via ERP data to learn about how the brain responds to this type of stimuli. This data may highlight differences in neuronal pathways of individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome compared to non-PWS individuals. Eventually, scientists hope to distinguish how the brain responds differently and if different areas of the brain respond to stimuli within this population.
Children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) have difficulty processing various speech sounds and grammar. It is important to improve our understanding of SLI so that future intervention efforts can be made to specifically cater to the child's learning. In this project, brain activity of children with SLI is compared to that of a control group of typically developing children while they are listening to various speech sounds. Responses to language treatments are being assessed through behavioral measures as well. We hope to understand the differences between these groups and why this processing variation may be occuring.
Vanderbilt scientists have also studied language processing using EEG technology in Down syndrome and Williams syndrome populations as well as cochlear-implanted adults.
How do we learn to associate words and objects? Vanderbilt researchers collected brain activity information from typically developing 4-year-olds before and after they successfully identified a nonsense word with its equally unrecognizeable referent object. Significant results provide evidence suggestive of changes in brain activity, as detected by electroencephalography and event related potentials, in the right temporal and parietal lobes occuring potentially as a result of word learning.