The study of infant attention expands in Malawi

Submitted on Thu, 11/22/2018 - 13:26

Researchers from the University of Tampere’s Center for Child Health Research, Uppsala University and the University of Malawi recently investigated the early development of visual attention in Malawian infants. The study of over 300 babies showed that 7-month-old Malawian infants learned to anticipate visual events and focus attention on a face in the same way as Western children of the same age.

When the research results were compared to previous results from Finland, it was found that delays in attention shifts and the duration of facial fixation differed in Malawian and Finnish children.

Malawian and Finnish children grow up in environments that differ in many respects. In Malawi, infants are more often exposed to many risk factors – such as premature birth, malnutrition, infections and psychosocial stress – than in Finland. Face-to-face interaction between a child and an adult and the use of new technologies are less common in Malawi than in Finland and other Western countries.

It is possible that some of the differences between Malawi and Finland reflect children’s adaptation to different rearing environments. However, this study found no associations between measures of attention regulation and premature birth, nutritional status, or psychosocial risk factors among the Malawian infants.

The next phases of the study will investigate whether the individual differences found in early development predict the future cognitive and social development of children in Malawi. The substantiation of these associations requires long follow-up studies.

The infants’ attention was studied with an automated eye-tracking setup that the Infant Cognition research group at the University of Tampere has developed for several years. So far, the group in Tampere and similar research groups in other institutions have used the eye tracking method on Western populations. For the comprehensive modelling of early childhood development, it is important that the studies can be expanded to children in different populations and environments.

The research results were published in a recent issue of Developmental Science:

Pyykkö, J. Forssman, L., Maleta, K., Ashorn P., Ashorn, U., & Leppänen, J.M. (2018). Early development of visual attention in infants in rural Malawi. Developmental Science.

The MiTrack project

Doctoral Researcher Juha Pyykkö,
Research Director Jukka Leppänen, +358 40 190 1361,