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Elena Altmann

Research student

Lancaster University

Fylde College

LA1 4YF

Lancaster

Research Interests

How do children learn about their environment? Where do they start, on what basis do they choose what to explore and learn about next? How do interests form and how do children differ between each other regarding all these processes? My research interests include fundamental mechanisms of infant development such as active exploration, learning and individual characteristics. I address these topics using my extensive training in psychological infant research with multiple methodologies (e.g. Gaze contingent Eye tracking, EEG) and complex modelling approaches.

Current Research

My current research concerns infant curiosity. Curiosity is generally understood as the internal desire for information without an immediate, extrinsic reward, or 'the urge to know more'. While most recent infant studies observe phenomena originating from infants’ curious behaviour, they usually neglect the construct itself. To bring attention to infant curiosity and its importance for human development, I was delighted to receive the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship, joining the curiosity project here at Lancaster University under supervision of Prof. Dr. Gert Westermann.

Young children and infants are active learners who thrive from being given the opportunity to explore what they are interested in. Yet, most laboratory studies on curiosity have disregarded the infants’ own involvement in their exploratory behaviour. Thus, my research will focus on allowing infants to choose what they want to explore by using gaze contingent eye tracking methods. This way, we can explore if self-directed exploration behaviour is systematic across children and whether we can determine individual difference in what and how infants wish to explore. Integrating a universal perspective on active exploration with a focus on individual differences in a comprehensive context is crucial for fundamentally understanding a phenomenon and its developmental trajectory. Such fundamental knowledge is needed to build sensible research on, and to relate more experimental findings to. 

Career Details

Ever since I worked as a student research assistant at Potsdam University's Babylab during my Bachelor's, I have built my education around psychological research, more specifically such directed at the youngest populations. There, I tested children between the ages of four months to three years across diverse study designs using eye tracking, EEG and imitation. I was also involved in video coding and data analysis and took every opportunity to gain relevant skills for my ambitions of a career in research. For example, I participated in workshops to better understand standardised tests of cognitive development.

I then followed the University of Amsterdam's Psychology Research Master programme to further develop my scientific research skills, including more advanced analysis methods, as well as the awareness for and importance of scientific integrity. 

Having started my doctoral programme at Lancaster University in October 2020, I am excited to conduct research independently, to add relevant knowledge to the infant curiosity research field using new approaches, and to gain additional experience in teaching.

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