Researchers help uncover how infants learn word meanings

August 1, 2012
Nancy Rader and students

Research conducted in the Cognition Laboratory at Ithaca College is helping those who study child development gain a better understanding of how children learn the meanings of words. The researchers found that if a person holding an object while talking makes hand gestures that move the object in rhythm with speech, an infant’s attention will be drawn away from the speaker’s mouth and to the object.

“The gestures help ‘unstick’ the child’s attention from the speaker’s mouth — where the sound is coming from — and direct it to the thing being held,” said Nancy Rader, professor of psychology in the Ithaca College School of Humanities and Sciences.

Rader and her coauthor, Patricia Zukow-Goldring of UCLA, recently published their research in the journal “Language Sciences.” It was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and with support from Ithaca College. Rader and a team of undergraduate psychology students used eye-tracking cameras and software to follow an infant’s gaze as a speaker on videotape gestured and talked while holding a toy. Infants in the study were 9-14 months of age.

Previous research at the Ithaca College lab established that infants at this age will focus on the mouth of a speaker, an important aspect in learning the sounds of a language. What Rader and her colleagues have found in this new research is that the speaker’s gestures function to redirect the infant’s gaze from the mouth to the object as the word for the object is uttered. By bringing sight and sound together, this shift in attention helps associate a word-sound with an object, a basic challenge of early-language learning.

“By understanding the early development pathways to language learning, we can also gain a better understanding of what goes wrong with some children, such as those with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental disabilities involving early language problems.”

The research results have also been published in the book “Gesture and Multimodal Development.”

Located within the Department of Psychology, the Cognition Laboratory is used for research that is designed to help us understand more about such topics as perception, , problem solving and emotion. Under Rader’s supervision, undergraduate psychology majors gain valuable experience working with children and families as well as a greater appreciation and knowledge of the nature of research.

Explore further: 'Motherese' important for children's language development

Related Stories

'Motherese' important for children's language development

May 6, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Talking to children has always been fundamental to language development, but new research reveals that the way we talk to children is key to building their ability to understand and create sentences of ...

Earlier autism diagnosis could mean earlier interventions

October 13, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Autism is normally diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3. But new research is finding symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in babies as young as 12 months. If children could be diagnosed earlier, it might ...

It’s official: Learning languages makes you smarter

October 6, 2011
New research has shown that learning a language may subtly change, and possibly improve, the way we think.

Unconscious language learning

November 4, 2011
When linguists talk about unconscious or implicit language learning, they don’t mean learning while you sleep. Rather, they are talking about one of the most intriguing of all mental phenomena: the ability to learn the ...

Gestures improve language learning

January 5, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Learning a new language usually requires written and spoken instructions but a new study shows that the use of word-specific gestures may aid in the learning process and help students better retain new ...

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.