Research using The Observer XT at the University of Dundee

Imitation can be seen in neonates

Neonatal imitation as opposed to infant imitation is seen as controversial.  In an attempt to clarify research, imitation studies have been carried out by Emese Nagy and her colleagues at the University of Dundee.

In one behavioural study of neonates (2013), their ability to imitate was explored by using The Observer XT software for coding and analysing their mouth, tongue, arm and finger movements.  It was found that tongue protrusion reflected a neonate’s imitative ability, discounting the possibility of responses resulting from arousal.  Using The Observer XT greatly increased the speed of data collection and the ease of analysis.

In a further study (2014), the imitation of index finger, two-finger and three-finger movements were examined to find differential imitations indicating the accurate imitation of neonates, a rapid learning component and the presence of a sensitive period for imitation.


Social interaction in neonates

The still-face paradigm is known to disrupt the communication pattern between infant and caregiver, as the caregiver stops interacting positively with the child, freezes and becomes unresponsive.  This results in the infant withdrawing, averting gaze and becoming increasingly distressed.  In a study (2107) by Emese and colleagues, this procedure was implemented twice to neonates with roughly a day’s interval.  The results revealed that the neonates appeared to learn from the first instance, modifying their behaviour on the second occurrence showing less distress.


Fetal responses to maternal touch

Viola Marx and Emese (2017) studied the response of foetuses to their mother’s touching of her abdomen, compared to the touch by the father, a stranger or no touch (control).  Utilising 3D real-time sonography, they discovered that foetuses touched the uterus wall for significantly longer in 3rd trimester compared to the 2nd trimester, when the mother touched her abdomen compared to the no touch condition.  This may indicate the development of a proprioceptive self-awareness.

People sharing moments

A further study (2011) found that spontaneous hugs studied in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games lasted on average 3 seconds.  This is in line with other research across humans and animals where behaviourally expressed subjective experiences such as chewing, babbling and good bye waves are also built on a 3 second segment of time. 



Back to list of blog entries