Longitudinal study using fNIRS finds first evidence of developmental differences between Gambian and UK infants

By Luca Pollonini

Investigators at Birkbeck, University of London, University of Cambridge and University College London have discovered that infants at 5 and 8 months of age in The Gambia and the UK have functionally distinct developmental trajectories.

In a study published in Developmental Science, fNIRS neuroimaging was used to measure the cortical hemodynamic response to a sentence spoken repeatedly by either a female or a male speaker in the infants’ native language with the intent to investigate both habituation and novelty aspects of the speech processing. Results show that, expectedly, 5-month old UK infants exhibited a progressively reduced response to sentence repetition by the same speaker (i.e., female) followed by a markedly evident response to a novel speaker. This habituation-novelty pattern became more evident when the infants were re-tested at 8 months of age, thus showing significant developmental specialization. In contrast, Gambian infants exhibited a reduced habituation effect and an almost totally absent novelty effect.

This is the first study of the BRIGHT Project (Brain Imaging for Global Health) that aim at investigating brain development in the first two years of life in underdeveloped countries like The Gambia. Data collection will continue on the same cohorts of infants at 12, 18 and 24 months of age.

The BRIGHT Project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Medical Research Council UK and the UK Department for International Development.

To know more:

S. Lloy-Fox et al. Habituation and Novelty Detection fNIRS brain responses in 5 and 8 month old infants: The Gambia and UK. Developmental Science (2019) https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12817