A new American study reveals that a baby’s attention span can be extended through parents’ eye contact during playtime, challenging the individualistic nature of attention span


Look at me. Eye contact is vital in the business world, everyday conversation and now, during playtime. Simply maintaining eye contact with your infant during playtime may be necessary to improve their attention span in the long run. A new study published in the journal Cell – Current Biology reveals the influence parents can have on their children’s attention span when they pay attention for an extended period of time. The coordination of attention during playtime between parents and children is known as joint attention. The study demonstrates that joint attention is essential in improving an infant’s attention span.

A child’s attention span is predicative of later developmental milestones such as learning language and problem solving. However, it is notoriously known by parents, siblings and teachers that young children have great difficulty maintaining attention on particular object or task – but, they get better as they grow older. Part of growing up is being surrounded by parents, who facilitate the developmental process through instruction, teaching and an infant’s favorite – playtime. Researchers at Indiana University explored how a parent’s behavior impacts their infant’s attention span using eye tracking data. 36 parents along with their 1-year-old infants were recruited and were closely observed in real time as the infants played with a toy. The parents were instructed to wear a camera-mounted helmet, which allowed the researchers to measure the direction of their gaze and track the effect it had on their infant’s attention span towards the toy.

The researchers found that the longer the parents looked at the toy, the longer the child did too. This pattern was also seen even after the parents looked away. The research, which appears in the May 2016 edition of Cell – Current Biology, challenges our current understanding the individualistic nature of a child’s attention span development.

Currently, in the world of cognitive psychology it is assumed that attention span is individualistic and unaffected by factors such as a parent’s gaze during playtime. Paying attention has always been viewed as a skill that children are born with and improve as they grow up, at their own pace. However, the study reveals that it is very much possible to facilitate improved attention span in children as young as one year old. The researchers hope that parents understand that their behavior during playtime is extremely influential in developing their infant’s attention span.

The next time you to decide to engage in playtime with your child – look, but then don’t forget to look a little longer.




Written By: Suganya Gnanakumaran, BSc

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