Examining caregivers’ interactions with a digital child: How does infant behavior affect caregiver responsiveness?

Tangata ako ana i te whare, te turanga ki te marae, tau ana – ‘A person who is taught at home will stand collected on the marae.’


We are seeking caregivers of 1 to 3 years old toddlers for an exciting new research collaboration between the Early Learning Lab and Soul Machines.

If you are interested in participating, please do get in touch!


Soul Machines have developed a novel, realistic, interactive model of a human infant, BabyX. Using a touchscreen and a webcam, BabyX can interact in real time with users in a human-like way. Our innovative research at the Early Learning Lab will use BabyX to help us better understand how parents respond to infant behaviour. Understanding which infant behaviours are important for initiating and maintaining caregiver responsiveness is important for helping develop interventions to improve parent responsiveness.

We will be recruiting parents of children aged 1 to 3 years of age to participate in this ground-breaking research. This research has been funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.




Infants in control – measuring infants’ degrees of guidance of visual attention

In this project, we are looking at when and how in development infants learn from their environment by guiding their visual attention. Looking at interesting and information rich areas in their visual field is a great way for infants to learn from their environment. However, it is unclear when infants gain the ability to choose their own points of focus to guide their eye gaze and visual attention to, as opposed to looking where their attention is being specifically drawn to. For example, a caregiver directing an infant’s attention to a kite in the sky, as opposed to the infant seeing the kite and choosing to look at it of their own accord. We have developed an interactive eye-tracking study in which infants can show us how they guide their visual attention. For this study, we will be inviting families with 5–14-month-old infants to participate and contribute to important developmental research.


If you are a caregiver of a 5–14-month-old infant and interested in participating, please do get in touch!



To participate in any of the above studies you can register your interest here or contact us at earlylearning.nz@gmail.com.


Many Babies 4: An International Cross-Lab Study Examining Infants’ Social Evaluations
We will soon be starting data collection for a large scale, multisite, international replication study called Many Babies 4 (MB4). We will be inviting parents and their 5- to 10-month-old infants to participate in this study, which examines infants’ preferences for prosocial individuals (helpers) over anti-social agents (hinderers). Prior research suggests that babies as young as 5 months of age prefer to interact with an individual who helped over an individual who hindered another individual’s goal attainment. This original finding raises important questions about the origins of morality. To test the strength of this effect, researchers across the globe are working together to conduct a large study to replicate the original findings. ELLA is proud to be one of the original members of this massive effort, which we will be collecting data for this year! We look forward to inviting families with 5- to 10-month-old babies to ELLA to take part in this groundbreaking research endeavour.

For more information: Please visit ManyBabies 4 Official website


Cooperation and Prosocial Behaviour: How do biology and social experience shape children’s ability to work with others?
Everyday functioning relies on the ability to successfully work together with each other. Something as simple as buying groceries relies on the cooperation of many individuals (e.g., farmers, grocers, cashiers, etc.). In addition to being an important part of our everyday lives, cooperation plays an important role in children’s social and cognitive development. We have just finished the final data collection wave of this longitudinal study which began when our participants were 9 months of age. Our oldest participants in this final session were 10 years old! This study involved more than 600 NZ families and examines how biological and experiential factors shape the development of this important skill. Although data collection is complete, we still have a tonne of work to do as we code and analyse all of the data which is how we will be able to provide answers to our question of how biology and experiences shape cooperative and prosocial behaviour development across early childhood. This work has been funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund and a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship awarded to A. Henderson.



Family Resilience and Wellbeing
We are also conducting a study on family resilience and well-being. This research examines how parents and children respond to the inevitable challenges of life. Prior work has shown that different strategies work for different people in different contexts. So, rather than identifying the way families should be resilient, our study aims to identify how different ways of feeling, thinking and behaving work for different parents, children and contexts. And, because families are so important, our study is looking at what parents do, what children do, and what parents and children do together that fosters resilience and well-being. This research is a collaborative project with ELLA and REACH Relationship Lab, led by Professor Nickola Overall. This project involves over 290 families, and has been tracking parents and children’s health and well-being from before and throughout the pandemic.