top of page
  • Writer's pictureLaura

How Parents & Babies' Brains Really Sync Up During Play

Have you ever wondered whether all that time posting shapes through holes and reading Going On A Bear Hunt for the seventy millionth time was really worth it?

Research by the Baby Lab at Princeton University has shown that when babies and adults play and read together, their brains are literally on the same wavelength.

Not only that, but they made some other fascinating discoveries about babies' brains that I wanted to share with you. Yes, I'm a science nerd, but these findings blew my mind!

The Baby Lab researchers monitored brain activity while babies and adults played with toys, sang songs and read books.

Hilariously, of the 42 babies in the study, 21 had to excluded for "excessive squirming" and 3 refused to wear the cap at all. #neverworkwithchildren

But of the babies, aged between 9-15 months, who made it into the study, here are some things they found out that you can remember during your playtime together.

1. Engaging directly helps you connect

In the study, the adult spent five minutes interacting directly with the baby and five minutes turned to the side telling a story to another adult while the child played quietly.

During the face-to-face playing, the babies' brains were found to be synchronized with the adult's brain in several areas. When the adult turned away, this synchronisation stopped.

2. Play time helps develop understanding of the world

The parts of the brain that synced up during playtime were those linked to learning, planning and high-level understanding of the world.

Babies were perhaps starting to decode the meaning of a story or analyze the adults' motives in reading it to them.

It was previously thought that these areas of the brain, particularly those around planning and decision-making, weren't very developed in babies of this age. However researchers found that these areas were more active than they'd believed. It's possible that playtime can help them develop.

3. Babies might even be in charge

Yeh, it may feel like your baby is the boss anyway, but the research indicated babies' brains can actually influence adults' brains. Sounds like something from science fiction, right?

The babies' brain activity in the study was often a few seconds ahead of the same brain activity in the adult. Lew-Williams, co-director of the Baby Lab said this "suggested babies do not just passively receive input but may guide adults toward the next thing they're going to focus on: which toy to pick up, which words to say."

They found a "feedback loop" where the adult's brain seemed to predict when the babies would smile and the babies' brains anticipated when the adult would use more 'baby talk'. Elise Piazza, one of the authors of the study, concluded "when a baby and adult play together, their brains influence each other in dynamic ways."

So enjoy your playtime together and remember, that connection you feel while you do is genuine and reciprocated. Just be careful - your baby have a greater influence on you than you thought ;)


Little STEAMers classes start from age 2 and help you to spend time playing and connecting with your child to learn together in your own home. You can try your first class for free.

116 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page