Brains at Play: Imaging the neuronal signatures of oxygenation and metabolic functional responses in toddlers playing within a virtual environment.

Ilias Tachtsidis (primary)
Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering
University College London
Professor Denis Mareschal (secondary)
Psychological Science
Birkbeck College


Play is ubiquitous amongst the young of almost every species and clearly plays an essential role in learning. However, there is little understanding of how it shapes brain function and especially how it is associated with the brain neuronal, oxygenation and metabolic responses. Our goal is to use state-of-the-art optical neuroimaging (broadband Near-Infrared Spectroscopy) to image non-invasively in freely moving toddlers engaged in interactive play within the World’s first audio-visually contingent fully immersive Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE). We will explore how the content and regularity of play engages the brain and alters brain oxygenation and metabolic responses of children from 2 to 5 years of age.


Bateson, P. & Martin, P. (2013) Play, Playfulness, creativity and innovation. Cambridge, UKk: Cambridge University Press.
Freier, L., Cooper, R. P. & Mareschal, D. (2015) Preschool Children’s Control of Action Outcomes. Developmental Science. DOI:10.1111/desc.12354

Phan P, Highton D, Lai J, Smith M, Elwell C, Tachtsidis I. Multi-channel multi-distance broadband near-infrared spectroscopy system to measure the spatial response of cellular oxygen metabolism and tissue oxygenation. Biomed Opt Express. 2016 Oct 5;7(11):4424-4440.

P. Pinti, M. F. Siddiqui, A. D. Levy, E. J. H. Jones & Ilias Tachtsidis An analysis framework for the integration of broadband NIRS and EEG to assess neurovascular and neurometabolic coupling Scientific Reports volume 11, Article number: 3977 (2021)

Siddiqui MF, Lloyd-Fox S, Kaynezhad P, Tachtsidis I, Johnson MH, Elwell CE. Non-invasive measurement of a metabolic marker of infant brain function. Sci Rep. 2017 May 2;7(1):1330.

Pinti P, Aichelburg C, Gilbert S, Hamilton A, Hirsch J, Burgess P, Tachtsidis I. A Review on the Use of Wearable Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy in Naturalistic Environments. Jpn Psychol Res. 2018 Oct;60(4):347-373

Genes, development and STEM* approaches to biology
Area of Biology
Techniques & Approaches
Image ProcessingSimulation / Modelling