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I have a 3 month old baby and I was wondering what kind of controlled and most importantly, safe home-made scientific experiments I can do with my baby to understand his development, his behavior and his learning curve at different stages of growth.

I know this is mostly done by experts, but considering we have been gifted with a baby and that it is such a unique opportunity to learn about little humans we have at home, I wanted to know what other parents do to learn about their kids without compromising their safety obviously.

Taking this one step further, wouldn't it be amazing that parents all over the world could do safe controlled experiments and share the results? It would be like a global, open-source way of contributing to baby science.

Some examples could be: their reaction to music, sounds, moving objects, animals, colors, textures, technology, human interaction. How far they can see at each stage, when they are able to recognize themselves in a mirror (Toddlers And The Mirror Test)?, when can they grab different type of things? when will they begin using tools?, lots of other experiments related to language learning, etc.

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You are going to do experiments on your child?! ... or You want to do physics and chemistry with an infant?! I guess I am reading that wrong, but the title makes it sound that way! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 8 '12 at 19:03
    
That is not what I mean. Maybe the question itself is not very descriptive @Torben Gundtofte-Bruun but if you read the details you will see what I mean. If you have a better alternative for the question itself I'd be happy to hear it. –  Adolfo Perez Sep 8 '12 at 19:12
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By Scientific experiments I mean mostly things you can observe in your baby, measure, do hypothesis testing, etc. –  Adolfo Perez Sep 8 '12 at 19:44
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I would avoid anything that involves electricity; or chemicals; or explosions of any kind. ;-) –  Kramii Sep 13 '12 at 12:28
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This book has a Chapter devoted to it:knowledge.sagepub.com/view/exploring-developmental-psychology/… –  parenting101 Jul 20 '13 at 2:53

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

You could do almost anything, but I think you should set yourself some ground rules. Obviously you don't want to put your baby into any kind of potentially harmful situation. You want to avoid any experiments that cause undue stress... no witholding of food, sleep, or affection, no stress testing their capacity for discomfort, etc.

So what can you do? I would restrict myself to observational experiments. How does your child react to a new song? What about a familiar song? What toys are they interested in? How long do they look at thing X or thing Y?

Keep an object in the room for a week. Not an object they'll get attached to, like a teddy bear, but something neutral. Remove the object. Do they seem to notice? Repeat at intervals, record the results.

It is possible for this to be done globally, all you need is some kind of web site that people can register on and some forms for them to fill out the answers to different experimental questions and to suggest new experiments.

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You got my idea completelly @philosodad. It would also be an interesting experiment to see what babies become when they are grown-ups and to see if there is some correlation between their early detected skills and their life path... The baby experiment site could be hooked to facebook since most parents have accounts there. I'll keep thinking about that idea.. Thanks for your suggestions! –  Adolfo Perez Sep 8 '12 at 19:20

I'm the author of Experimenting With Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid, which I hope you'll check out. The book takes published academic studies in various fields of child development -- primitive reflexes, motor skills, cognitive development, language development, social/emotional development, and more -- and adapts them so parents can perform them at home on their own baby, with no special equipment needed. You'll learn how to perform some famous time-tested experiments, as well as new experiments that are adapted from very recent research.

Below is an example of the type of experiment you'll find in the book. It's based on a November 2011 study that deals with perception and cognitive development.

The experiment

Perform this experiment when your baby is between 13 and 15 months old.

For this experiment, you'll need two adults: one to participate in the experiment and one to observe it.

Have one adult sit at a table on which two similar-looking toys are placed, one to his left and one to his right, and place your baby in a high chair opposite him.

Now, you'll perform four 15-second sequences, each separated by a pause of about 15 seconds. For each sequence, the observer should keep track of which of the two toys your baby looks at longer.

1) The adult should turn his head and gaze toward one of the toys for about 15 seconds.

2) The adult should repeat the action, gazing toward the same toy for another 15 seconds.

3) The adult should place his hand between the two toys and stare at the hand for 15 seconds.

4) The adult should exit the room, leaving the two toys undisturbed on the table.

The hypothesis

During the first and second sequences, your baby will look longer at the toy the adult gazes toward.

During the third sequence, she will continue to look longer at the toy the adult gazed toward.

During the fourth sequence, she will look slightly longer at the other toy.

The research

In a 2011 study, 14-month-old babies were shown video clips in which an adult gazed toward one of two toys.

Then, one group of the babies was shown a video clip in which the adult stared at her hand, rather than either of the toys, while another group was shown a video clip in the toys were present but the adult was not.

The study found that the babies in the first group looked much longer at the toy the adult had previously gazed toward, but the babies in the second group looked slightly longer at the other toy.

The study's author says the results support the idea that 14-month-olds form an association between a person and an object after having seen the person gazing at the object, because the babies preferentially looked at the object even after the person had stopped gazing at it -- but only while the adult was still in close proximity to the object.

The study

Paulus, Markus. "How infants relate looker and object: evidence for a perceptual learning account of gaze following in infancy," Developmental Science 14:6:1301-1310, November 2011.

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Welcome to the site! Any chance you'd be willing to include a sample experiment in your answer to whet our appetite for your book? –  Beofett Jul 20 '13 at 3:06
    
This is exactly what I was looking for! I will definitely check out the book, seems very interesting. Thanks for sharing the reference. –  Adolfo Perez Jul 21 '13 at 13:11

You will get very far by just observing. Children are very curious creatures, and they are doing a lot of experimenting on their own, without you trying to initialize specific experiments.

The main challenge is really to make the time to observe, and be able to recognize what actually happens in their different small experiments.

The most important is to have a notebook and a pen available at all times, so you can pick it up and make notes each time you notice something new. Make a note of what, when, and reflections on why he does it.

When you have time, you should sit down and collect the notes in a more systematic way, where you perhaps write a diary-like thing in a private blog or word-document or something where you go more in depth on each "experiment". This should be done on a regular base so you don't forget too much about each incident (although the notes will help you remember).

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What you're describing is what every parent does: expose your child to different stimuli and see how they react, and what they like and do not like. That's not really experimenting on your child. Experimenting on your child requires that you a) control for all factors, b) follow the experimental method, and c) change one factor to see what the response is. In your home you're never going to be able to control for all factors, you need a lab to do that.

I'm not in favor of viewing one's child as a subject (and I have a degree in Psychology), you want your relationship to be loving parent, not mad scientist or god forbid BF Skinner! You're going to have ample opportunity to see how your child develops and what they like and don't like, and there's many web forums and local groups to share your experiences with. Try to enjoy the process as much as you can.

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One of the best methods I know is to provide age-appropriate toys and then observe. Participate as much as you like (more is better) but don't lead too much so that the child isn't paced too hard.

Keep a diary if you like: You could record milestones like: able to turn from back to belly, able to turn back again, able to hold an item, able to sit, able to ... you get the idea.

Get some parenting books that include these milestones and compare against your notes. Get inspiration from the books on what things to look for.

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