Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is a new and increasingly widespread brain imaging technique, particularly suitable for young infants. The laboratories of the McDonnell Consortium have contributed to the technological development and research applications of this technique for nearly a decade. The present paper provides a general introduction to the technique as well as a detailed report of the methodological innovations developed by the Consortium. The basic principles of NIRS and some of the existing developmental studies are reviewed. Issues concerning technological improvements, parameter optimization, possible experimental designs and data analysis techniques are discussed and illustrated by novel empirical data.