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Marietta student studies infant learning

A SUNY Cortland associate professor of psychology is making house calls to help parents and scientists better understand babies.

Kimberly Kraebel is half way through a two-year infant learning and memory project to comprehend how infants process sensory information during learning.

The study is funded by a $156,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and seeks infant participants ages 3 and 5 months old. Kraebel is only the second faculty member from SUNY Cortland whose research has been funded by NIH.

"I've always been interested in the underlying processes of learning," said Kraebel, who has more than nine years of experience working with infants in a research setting. "This project is about understanding the basic learning processes in infants and how those processes might differ from the way older children and adults take in new information. Specifically, I am trying to determine what factors might facilitate or inhibit these procedures in infants."

The heart of the research is finding out if babies would show facilitated learning in the presence of amodal cues, meaning cues that can be processed by more than one of the senses, Kraebel explained.

"Research has shown that infants are very good at detecting amodal cues such as shape, intensity and affect," Kraebel said. "I want to determine if there is a functional significance to this detection for learning operations. The long-term goal of the research is not only to understand babies better and how they learn, but also to eventually help babies at risk for developmental and learning disabilities by providing them with experiences that will enhance understanding."

The tools she uses to measure how the babies learn are all handmade and one-of-a-kind. They include a kick-detecting device, a mobile made up of cylindrical shapes and a small motor that makes the mobile move.

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