Professor receives federal grant to study infants

imageDr. Leigh F. Bacher, an assistant professor of psychology at SUNY Oswego, will open a door to potential new insights in health and behavior when she begins collecting data this summer in a two-year project funded by the National Eye Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health.

The institute awarded her a $339,813 exploratory grant to study spontaneous eye blinking in infants. Exploratory grants “are for projects that are new, novel,” she said, rather than for work in established research areas.

She will investigate whether this kind of blinking may correlate with some other aspect of an infant’s health or behavior, she said. In adults, for instance, a slow spontaneous blinking rate is associated with Parkinson’s disease, she noted.

Others have documented spontaneous blinking in primates and in adult humans, but Bacher noted that she would be among the first to study it in infants and the first to do a longitudinal study of infants, investigating development over time.

She plans to record the spontaneous blinking, body movement and heart rates of about a hundred infants at the ages of 4 and 12 months as they engage in different activities. Parents will fill out a questionnaire assessing the babies’ temperaments at each age.

“Individual differences in blinking rates might reflect differences in some aspects of temperament, such as who will approach novel objects or smile easily,” Bacher explained.

Two colleagues in Oswego’s psychology department, Brooks Gump and Jacqueline Reihman, will serve as consultants on the project. Gump will lend his expertise in measuring and interpreting changes in heart rate. Reihman will advise on statistical procedures and on recruiting families from the community to participate in the study.

This summer Bacher will hire a full-time lab manager for the project, and she will be able to pay her research subjects through the grant. She will have undergraduate assistants working with her as well. “I really, really like having this team approach to research,” she said.

And she’s looking forward to meeting her research subjects. “It’s just a real treat to talk to people and their babies,” she said.

Bacher has experience working with infants, both during her post-doctoral work at SUNY Binghamton and during an ongoing study on the development of reaching at Oswego with younger infants.

She has already made contact with local physicians to begin recruiting parents and their infants for infant development studies at Oswego and plans to place ads in local newspapers about the opportunity for local families to participate in the blinking study.

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(Posted: Apr 20, 2005)