Birkbeck Babylab

Birkbeck Babylab

This has to be right up there among my absolute favourite things I have done with Pea in London. I’ll be sad not to be able to participate once we move and would love to find something similar in Dublin.

What’s it all about?

The Babylab at Birkbeck College, University of London is a research centre focused on studying the development and learning of babies. Studies have included topics such as facial recognition and language development. In addition, the Babysibs project aims to better understand why some children develop conditions such as autism. Studies are ongoing and parents can sign up their budding ‘baby scientists’ to participate. I first discovered the Babylab in around May 2016 through an ad in a free parenting magazine I picked up in the library. I’ve always had an interest in psychology and I thought this seemed like a great thing to get involved in. I went online and filled out a simple registration form. Once registered it’s then just a case of waiting until your child is the right age for one of the studies.

Our visit

To date we’ve participated in two separate studies. The first aimed to establish whether or not a babies sense of rhythm is influenced by the person carrying them. The second was a study on anticipation. Shortly after the initial registration I received an information pack in the post but it was then several months before I was contacted by email to participate in our first study.

When we arrived for the first time, we were greeted by the researcher Sinead. Pea, with his usual great timing, had soiled himself to the extent that a complete outfit change was required and I even needed to give his pram a going over with the wet wipes after. It felt like we were in the baby change room for an excessively long time. Sinead took this all completely in her stride and put us at ease when we finally emerged. We were shown into a waiting room furnished with loads of toys and Pea was able to play while Sinead explained the research to me.

The study involved Pea bashing on a little drum for one minute. Then he was strapped into a Baby Bjorn carrier and went for a little jog on the treadmill with Sinead. There was a screen showing cartoons directly in front of the treadmill, and one of Sinead’s colleagues also distracted him by blowing bubbles. He loved it! The second study was a simpler one which just involved Pea watching a series of videos while I held him on my lap. As the study was about anticipation, I wasn’t allowed to see what he was watching lest he look around at me for reassurance. In case you ever wondered, it is very difficult not to look when you can hear someone saying “Hey! Look here.” At the end of each study we even got a little baby t-shirt and ‘degree’ certificate for Pea. On both occasions the whole thing took only about an hour.

This really is a lovely thing to do with your baby and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to any London parents or parents to be (you can actually register before your baby is born). You get to contribute to research that will increase understanding of child development and the studies are enjoyable for the babies. The whole operation felt both well organised and relaxed. Indeed, it was so relaxed that on our second visit a friend of mine was able to tag along and had a great time observing the study and chatting to the researchers.

What I liked most about this experience was that on both occasions was the way the research staff interacted with Pea. They took some time to play with him and build a rapport before commencing the study. Not only that but they helped out by distracting him any time he threatened to kick off. After the second study, he sensed the imminent return to his buggy prison and commenced a loud, violent protest.  I was very grateful to the small army of bubble and rattle wielding women who managed to divert him long enough for me to strap him into the pram and subdue him with an apple biscotti baby biscuit. Jesus, those things are like crack for babies.

Where/When/How Much?

The Babylab is at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Henry Wellcome Building, Birkbeck College, Malet Street WC1E. Studies are ongoing and if called up for one you’ll likely be offered a choice of days and times to come in. There’s no cash incentive for taking part but travel expenses are reimbursed on the day.


Step free access, baby change and toilet, waiting room with an impressive selection of toys to distract babies before and after. Older siblings can come along and, provided this is flagged up beforehand, a member of staff can supervise them in the waiting room while the baby scientist does her/his thing. Refreshments were offered both times and there are also numerous good options for sustenance in the immediate area (The Life Goddess on Store Street was lovely and quiet at 11.00am on a Friday). Indeed, the location is perfect for really making a day of this, with an embarrassment of options within walking distance such as The British Museum, Russell Square, The Foundling Museum and Coram’s Fields.

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