The Covid pandemic has had an impact on all of us, but researchers from the University of Zurich found that being close to parents (or other caregivers) was enough to mitigate any adverse effects on the social development of infants and toddlers.
This pandemic has drastically changed our social lives. People had to start working from home, keep their distance from others, and use a mask to cover their faces. This affected adults and children alike, but there is very little research about the impact on very young infants.
To cover this gap, a team from the University of Zurich assessed whether infants born during the pandemic behaved differently when compared to same-age infants born before the pandemic. The study focussed on the baby’s ability to follow a person’s gaze. “This ability is fundamental for engaging in social interactions, building relationships, and developing language skills,” said Stephanie Wermelinger from the Department of Psychology of UZH. The researcher explained that if this ability does not develop normally, it can make it very difficult for the person to interact with others.
The team enlisted parents of 80 infants between the ages of 12 and 15 months to participate in the study. Infants were shown several videos of people gazing into one of two objects. The researchers tracked the babies’ eye movements and recorded how many times they could follow the gaze. These results were compared with eye movement data from over 100 children measured before the pandemic.
To the relief of many parents, the results revealed that babies born during the pandemic did not behave differently from any other baby. These babies followed gaze just as quickly as children born before the pandemic. Although they interacted with fewer people due to lockdown and had to interact with people wearing masks, there weren’t any differences in terms of their social development as long as they had an adult in their lives.
“We believe the unchanged social interactions with parents and caregivers at home are enough to mitigate any influence the Covid-19 pandemic might have had on infants,” concluded Wermelinger. It turned out that even contacts with a limited number of people were enough to teach infants the clues needed to develop social and emotional skills.
Wermelinger S, Moersdorf L, Daum M (2022) How experience shapes infants’ communicative behaviour: Comparing gaze following in infants with and without pandemic experience. Infancy, https://doi.org/10.1111/infa.12488