Psychology professor studies blinking in infants

An Oswego State psychology professor released a study about blinking that may become a research tool in identifying developmental changes in infants.

Leigh Bacher’s study, which Oswego State psychology students worked on, was funded by the National Institutes of Health, which provided a $330,000 grant to help pay for everything that was involved in the research project.

Students looked at cognitive development, temperament and motor development in infants. Individual differences were monitored, such as the sex and weight of the baby, to determine if those affect the rate of blinking per minute.

Bacher first started the research during her post-doctoral research job at SUNY Binghamton.

When she began teaching at Oswego State in 2001, she continued working on the study, but needed help from students. Many students from the psychology department had the opportunity to be a part of the project. They had the choice to volunteer or get paid, and some students that took Psychology 490 were able to receive credit towards their degree.

Students have helped for the last five years to conduct experiments and put together the research. Bacher said that she could not have done this study if it were not for the help of these students.

About five people had to work together at one time to obtain data from one baby, which usually took an hour and 30 minutes.

Babies had to use some problem solving techniques during this study. The babies were offered one toy at a time, which were put behind a clear barrier. The babies had to move towards the barrier to get to the toy. Those with higher rates of blinking were the ones that seemed to take longer to start their movement.

"I am fascinated by the science aspect of this project since there are so many questions that need to be answered, such as why are babies reaching out their arms at certain times," Bacher said.

The project concluded that infants have a smaller eye opening and a thinner layer of fats and tear film, but this did not relate to the blinking rate.

The longitudinal research, using the same subjects over an extended period of time, was taken from 74 babies. Data was taken from 4-month-olds, and those babies were invited back once they turned 12 months. Research showed that the older the baby was, the more demanding they became.

There were two different types of situations that the babies were put in to help determine what makes a baby blink more or less. One situation consisted of putting the baby in a room for about five minutes where nothing was going on except adults talking and a quiet lullaby, which was called a quiet baseline. Toys were then shown to the baby or a person read a story to them.

The 4-month-old babies whose attention was engaged on toys had a slower blinking rate compared to just sitting still quietly, since babies are rarely still.

"I really enjoyed working with the babies and being able to learn more about them," Bacher said.

Dr. Bacher is also interested in pursuing another study, which would be on the biological basis learning to reach, which would come with time.