Our Youngest Audience for Public Engagement

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Gideon Salter is a PhD researcher with a passion for investigating social cognition, primarily in infants. Understanding how an infant progresses from engaging in face to face interactions to shared experiences with objects or other people ultimately allows him to look at the bigger picture – how we as humans communicate.

Gideon has conducted a longitudinal study of over a year’s duration with 26 babies at the University of St Andrews’ Baby and Child Lab (ABC Lab). Through a series of activities and interviews, he was able to document the developmental changes occurring over time.

Whilst there are many activity groups for toddlers in the local area, Gideon was one of the main players in setting up a new group for parents and their babies called the Baby Bee. The Baby Bee group sessions within the lab have provided a quiet and calm space for mothers and young babies, cultivating a focus on shared experiences and offering a listening ear. It has been highly successful in establishing connections with the local community and welcoming in local businesses, from mum and baby yoga representatives to health experts specialising in feeding/sleep, in order to give support and advice to visiting mums.

Gideon has helped to run various activities on the topic of joint attention at community centres in Dundee and educational presentations for secondary school students, educators and parents alike. Questionnaires completed by mums attending the Baby Bee group have indicated increased knowledge of developmental psychology and an improved sense of well-being as a direct result of these sessions. Additionally, through a knowledge exchange event with representatives from toddler groups, charities, baby activity classes and the birth registry, the Facebook page ABC Lab Communities was formed to supply a platform where local activities and events could be shared for parents. Through this, the initiative has recruited undergraduate students from the University to help out, in turn allowing further ripples of connection in the community.

Gideon’s work in the ABC Lab can be moving and rewarding; it is sad when it is time for a baby you’ve witnessed grow to leave but the laboratory is a dynamic setting, replenished by new faces all the time. Whilst some mums might come for a couple of sessions only, they may crucially encourage others to come along, enabling the whole initiative to achieve wider connections.

Through getting involved with the local communities in and around St Andrews, Gideon has come to enjoy practicing Public engagement and considers it a key part of what it means to be a researcher. Effective Public engagement involves an interplay back and forth between communities and researchers – the ABC Lab is a prime example of this interplay, testament to its success. Gideon looks forward to returning to the lab when things are back to normal, working as part of a team with his Supervisor Malinda Carpenter and lab manager Geraldine Brown.

If you want to learn more about the ABC Lab you can visit webpage. Alternatively, you can catch it on part two (episode four) of the series ‘Babies’ which came to Netflix on the Friday 19 June.



~Blog post was interviewed and written by Freya Masters

Related topics