It's always been tough to understand how babies' brains work, since they can't talk and don't take well to being stuffed into an MRI machine. But new technology is changing all that. The Wall Street Journal just published an interesting peek into the laboratory of Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, at the University of Washington in Seattle. Kuhl is one of the first scientists to use magnetoencephalography (MEG) imaging to get a peek inside the heads of infants and young toddlers. (As you can see below, it kind of looks like something you might find in an interstellar hair salon.) Much like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, it shows changes in the magnetic fields in the brain, providing insight into exactly what's going on when babies are thinking. "The baby brain is a mystery, waiting to be unpeeled," Kuhl told The Journal. "It's full of secrets waiting to be uncovered."
These studies may sound sort of simplistic, but learning more about even basic functioning at an early age provides invaluable insight into problems that develop later in life. An infant brain has just 25 percent the volume of an adult brain, but that increases to 70 percent by age one. What Kuhl and company are essentially doing, is mapping out exactly what's going on in those few key months. Her team's not the only one either. A lab at Harvard has been hard at work on these problems for years now. Inevitably, all of this research should result in the ability to raise our children better. "We've said a million times, 'Read with your baby, talk with your baby, read your baby's cues,''' says Claire Lerner, a child developmental specialist. "But it takes on a much greater level of importance when you can actually connect it to brain function."