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Breaking Barriers: Innovations in Bio-Social Research

Join us for a range of free events on the 11-12th September!

This 2 day symposium tackles the challenges and opportunities involved when scientists get out of the lab and take their research "out into the real world!" Investigators from all disciplines are invited to participate in a series of talks and workshops about cutting edge research using innovative techniques such as mobile EEG and hyperscanning, dynamical social network analysis using GPS data, digital interactive play spaces, talk pedometers and more.

You can sign up for different parts of the conference via the links below. If you have any questions, please contact Anna Vidos [].

11th September 2017 

Talks and Hands-On Session


Please note that this event is aimed at academics and students from all disciplines.

On Day 1 we will explore some of the challenges and insights involved in using new technologies that take the study of children's development out of the lab and into diverse environments. Alejandro Moreno will share his exciting work on bringing together digital technology and physical play spaces to create digital playgrounds and Elian Fink will present her cutting edge work on using automated collection and analysis of the linguistic environment in children's homes.

Following the talks there will be a hands-on session for participants to explore the technologies used. We hope there will be lots of networking and useful discussion regarding ethics, practicalities, new directions, collaborations and more!

13:00 - 15:00      Two talks by Dr Elian Fink (University of Cambridge) and Dr Alejandro Moreno  (University of Twente), both followed by short Q&A sessions

Dr Elian Fink (University of Cambridge): Harnessing new technology to better understand the family language environment

Dr Alejandro Moreno (University of Twente): Shaping Social Play Behavior in Interactive Playgrounds

15:00 - 16:00      Coffee and networking opportunities, along with a hands-on session to showcase the technologies used in Dr Jenny Gibson's and Dr Vicky Leong's research.


Evening Public Lecture


Play: A window into children's social worlds

At this public event Dr Jenny Gibson (PEDAL Centre, University of Cambridge) together with Dr Bezhad Heravi & Prof. Steve Hailes (Computer Science, UCL) will present their innovative work using GPS sensor technology to study children's social behaviour at playtime. This will be followed by a key note lecture from world-renowned professor of Educational Psychology, Professor Anthony Pellegrini (Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota), who will discuss the potential evolutionary significance of play and the challenges and rewards of getting scientists out of the lab and onto the playground!

The public lecture will be followed by an invited round table discussion over dinner, bringing together computer scientists, psychologists, neuroscientists, educationalists and others. Discussants will explore the possibilities of developing collaborative interdisciplinary work that addresses the challenges of studying play outside of the lab.

Please note that the dinner is invitation-only.

12th September 2017



Frontiers in Brain Imaging in the Real-World

No two brains in the world are alike, and even the same brain has different states, at different times, in different social environments. This immense variation across individuals and contexts - once shunned as a confound - is now yielding rich clues about frontiers in human development, social cognition, learning and consciousness. This workshop will bring together scientists who work at the cutting-edge of real-world neuroscience. Hear about the challenges and new insights arising from brain imaging in extreme global locations, in two-person scenarios (hyperscanning), in the midst of real-life mother-infant interactions, and in different states of consciousness. 

9:00-14:00      Four short talks with Q&A sessions. Refreshments will be provided. Speakers: Dr Sarah Lloyd-Fox, Dr Tristan Bekinschtein, Dr Guillame Dumas, & Dr Victoria Leong

Dr Sarah Lloyd-Fox: Integrating nutrition, psychology and neuroscience to measure infant development in The UK and Gambia

Human brain and nervous system development during the first 1000 days is critical, risk of compromised development during this time can have a deep impact on physical growth and cognitive function into adulthood. Recent research has shown that under-nutrition in infancy is linked to lifelong effects on adult health, however we still have a poor understanding of how nutrition effects brain development during early life. Our ambitious objective is to chart brain development across different populations during this critical period. We aim to test longitudinally a total of 260 infants (60 in the UK and 200 in The Gambia) from birth to 2 years, with a battery of neurocognitive fNIRS, EEG, eyetracking and behavioural clinic and home assessments. This represents an unprecedented task in terms of (1) the amount of data collected; (2) training and coordination of on site teams and standardisation of tasks; (3) setting up data quality control procedures to enable merging data sets across sites; (4) setting up effective data transfer protocols that safeguard the integrity of the data collected to the analysis centres and (5) integrating data analyses and statistical modelling across nutrition, psychology and neuroscience.

Dr Tristan Bekinschtein: Catching brainwaves as we speak: the prediction of physiology for medicine and more

Modern medicine uses knowledge about the patient to take decisions on diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. The development of personalized medicine, a 2.0 version of this old practice, is gaining momentum and direct dynamical brain methods (i.e. EEG) should keep up and become complementary to those state or trait aspects of physiology (allelic variance, proteome). EEG, a portable, cheap and well developed technique to measure brain activity, is suitable to fulfill the needs of predictive medicine. I will be presenting research where EEG guides clinical and health decisions using the variability between people as a strength rather than a problem. I will also claim that it is in that variance that we will find the forte to understand underlying mechanisms of thought.

Dr Guillaume Dumas: Intra- and inter-individual diversity in social cognition: from individual neural dynamics to interactional behavioral patterns

Social interaction is a challenge for brain imaging but also a new frontier of cognitive neuroscience: understanding individual cognition needs to go beyond the traditional isolated brain perspective and to study how human development is shaped by active interactions with others. We will see how investigation of imitative exchanges with hyperscanning —simultaneously recording brain activity of multiple people— can help understanding the diversity of those interactions across neural and behavioral levels. A first study will show how different neural states underlie passive social perception and active social exchanges, and even how those states are also modulated by the social context such as spontaneous vs. induced interaction. A second study with participants with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will then illustrate how biological heterogeneity may lead to even wider range of neurobehavioral patterns. We will discuss how this support the current critics of the normative approach adopted in cognitive sciences.

Dr Victoria Leong: Synchrony through gaze : Mapping the neural social network of infants

Infants’ behavior and physiology are innately synchronized with that of their adult caregivers. This creates social connectedness within the adult-infant bond and is strategic for survival. Yet it is not known whether such synchronization emerges passively, or whether infants can synchronise selectively and intentionally with their adult partners. Here, I will provide the first evidence that at the most basic level of neural activity (where synchronization may be measured without subjective interpretation), infants show selective up-regulation of neural synchronization with their adult partners during periods of direct intentional gaze. Further, mutual eye contact stimulates infants’ own communicative efforts, which in turn maintains high dyadic synchronisation. Thus, the contingent exchange of social signals between infants and adults brings their brains into mutual temporal alignment, creating an optimal joint-networked state for communication and learning.

Dr Vicky Leong's research

This event is supported by:

ESRC logo

ESRC grants: Dr Gibson ES/N006577/1 ; Dr Leong ES/N006461/1; Dr Basilio ES/N002679/1


PEDAL Centre, University of Cambridge