As a baby, Asa barely noticed the camera that was strapped to his head for three hours a week. He’s become a little more resistant now that he’s two years old. But by letting his scientist mom capture the world from his point of view as he grew from infant to toddler, he’s already contributed a great deal to the study of how humans develop and learn.
Erica Wojcik, a developmental psychologist at Skidmore College and Asa’s mom, was the third scientist parent to join the SAYCam project, which started several years ago. Each parent put a headcam on their child twice per week when they were between the ages of six- and 32 months old. The videos each kid recorded show the perspective of a small person who might be crawling near the carpet, bashing a toy, or toddling precariously across a room.
“They’re certainly charming, but that’s not the point.”
Scientists have recently started using this kind of footage to study how babies learn to move, socialize, and speak. Children’s early environments profoundly shape their development, and differences in that development can lead to advantages or disadvantages later in life. By understanding this process better, researchers hope to find factors that can help all kids learn and thrive.
The study Wojcik is involved in is part of a larger trend in developmental psychology, one that is seeing a move away from brief experiments and toward long-term collection of natural data at home. Traditional research in this field happens in a lab, where experimenters might watch babies crawl across a table or teach toddlers nonsense words to study how they learn. These experiments can be carefully controlled and measured, but they can only tell us so much about how babies learn in the real world.
Now researchers have access to small, wearable recorders that kids can use for long stretches of time. They also have the computing power to handle the large datasets that come…