How do infants learn? Neural oscillations shed light on infant attention & learning
Infants constantly have to integrate novel information into their developing semantic networks. The role of the theta rhythm in encoding and memory formation has been well established in animal models and human adults. Meanwhile, our understanding of neural oscillations in human infants is still very limited. I will present our recent studies implicating the 4-5 Hz theta rhythm in 9-month-old infants’ processing of unexpected events. Results suggest that oscillatory activity in the theta band supports integration of novel information into existing concepts in infants. I will further present our ongoing work into the role of theta oscillations for the formation of novel object representations. We applied multivariate pattern analyses on the EEG data of 6- to 8-month-olds and adults viewing various images from four different categories. Preliminary results show that theta band neural oscillations form the basis of visual category representations in infants, and that these representations are shifted to the faster alpha/beta band in adults. Furthermore, frontal theta in the same study was enhanced when infants saw novel compared to familiarized items. Together, results speak to an integral role of the theta rhythm for processing novel information and learning in the infant brain.
Hoehl is head of the Research Unit of Developmental Psychology at the University of Vienna and leads the Wiener Kinderstudien (www.kinderstudien.at). She completed her undergraduate studies in psychology at Heidelberg University and received her PhD from the University of Leipzig in 2008. She completed her Habilitation at the University of Heidelberg in 2013. From 2016 to 2019 she led the Max Planck Research Group on Early Social Cognition at the MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. Her research focuses on social and cognitive development in early childhood.