A new study will see researchers from the University of East London using eye-tracking technology to establish if future language, social and attention weaknesses can be identified in babies as young as six-months. 

Being able to predict weaknesses in the critical pre-school years would enable professionals to develop targeted interventions, and increase the long-term chances that babies born in some of the UK's most deprived areas can enter school with an equal chance of success.

It is the first time a study of this kind has been taken directly into the community through Children's Centres to engage parents from all backgrounds.

Eye-tracking technology is traditionally confined to university 'babylabs', and the study of language development among infants currently relies on assessing speech patterns once infants begin to talk, usually from the age of two-years.

Lead researcher Professor Derek Moore, of UEL's Institute for Research in Child Development, said: "An estimated one in ten of the UK's children are affected by language difficulties by the time they start school.

"In the long-term eye-tracking technology could help to identify some of these weaknesses far earlier than is possible at the moment. This would help children to get the best possible start to their education.

"Eye-tracking allows us to explore in detail exactly how a baby responds to the mouth and eye movements of others, before they are able to talk, and the early identification of differences in the way babies focus their attention may indicate future social, language or attention difficulties."

The eye-tracker gives parents vital feedback in real-time, which can also be used to encourage parents to take a more focussed approach on how their baby learns about the world, and helping greatly in the development of early language and social skills.

Professor Moore added: "Pilot studies have shown parents are very positive about the technology. By watching how carefully their baby moves their focus of attention around, parents gain a real understanding of just how involved their infant is when interacting with people and objects in their environment, and they find this fascinating to see."

The three year "Take a Look Baby" study is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and will be conducted at Children's Centres in Tower Hamlets and Newham, east London. It will offer parents an unprecedented opportunity to learn more about their infant's development.

The Tobii eye-tracker looks just like any other computer monitor, but can accurately and reliably track a baby's eye movements while they watch video clips of speaking faces or moving objects. The equipment allows researchers to show parents exactly how their babies control their attention, and how they decide what to look at.

 The project is being run in partnership with Tower Hamlets Children's Services and Acuity ETS Ltd who are the suppliers of the TOBII eye tracking equipment within the UK and Ireland and also involves colleagues from the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck College.