Researchers at Cambridge University have found that babies and adults synchronize brain waves through eye contact.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a total of 36 infants across two experiments where their brain waves were compared with an adult.
The most surprising finding was that more brain activity was recorded in the brain of the babies as they watched the adult who made eye contact, while not directly facing forward.
Researchers attribute the finding to the novelty of the position, since a baby might normally expect someone facing away to not be looking at them.
“When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signalling their availability and intention to communicate with each other. We found that both adult and infant brains respond to a gaze signal by becoming more in sync with their partner,” said Dr. Victoria Leong, lead author on the study via the University of Cambridge.
In the first experiment, a baby was shown three videos: One showed an adult singing while facing forward and making eye contact with the baby; another was of an adult not directly facing the baby but still making eye contact; the third video showed an adult not facing the baby or making any eye contact.
The second part of the study consisted of an adult sitting face to face with a baby. Brain waves were measured while the adult looked directly at the baby, and while the adult sat with their gaze averted. When the adult and baby sat with their gaze locked, Alpha and Theta brain waves started to synchronize.
Leong pondered on some beneficial implications of her team’s findings.
“This mechanism could prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronising when to speak and when to listen, which would also make learning more effective.”
Infants made a greater effort to communicate when their gazes were locked, judging by an increase in vocalizations, according to the University of Cambridge.
An author of the study, Dr. Sam Wass, suggests jokingly of a much larger discovery.