LEWISBURG, Pa. — Long before they say their first words, babies communicate with sounds and gestures that are the building blocks of language. Before they are born, babies develop hearing and can distinguish their mother's voice from other voices and tell the difference between foreign languages.
Just how much babies understand and how they connect words with their meanings at an early age are questions Ruth Tincoff, an assistant professor of psychology, is exploring through an ongoing study at Bucknell University.
Tincoff is seeking local families with babies who are 4 months to 2 years old to participate in the study. Appointments, which will take about 30 minutes, may be arranged during the day, evenings or weekends. Participants will receive a small gift and information about language development.
Two-part study The study has two parts. First, the parents sit in a chair with the child in their lap and they watch a video. The video features a split-screen with various actions being played out as a voice says words that relate to the actions.
Some of the actions, such as clapping, are familiar to most babies. Other actions, such as running, are more familiar to older babies who are walking or running themselves. The researchers videotape the process and track how often the babies connect the images with corresponding words.
During the second part of the study, the parents and baby play a game while being videotaped. The parents encourage their babies to act out words such as "sit" and "hug."
The researchers later analyze how the babies perform the actions and how the parent and baby communicate during the game.
"What we are interested in is the exchange between the child and the parents and the child's ability to adapt to the information their parents are giving them," Tincoff said. "When kids are just starting to walk, what is their language, and how is the parents' communication with their child changing?"
Early indications Psychologists have been studying speech development in babies for years, but little is known about the comprehension of infants younger than a year old, said Tincoff, whose previous findings with a collaborator were included in a book, Infant Development: The Essential Readings (Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2000).
Tincoff's current research could shed light on how children learn words and develop language and cognitive skills. It also could contribute to diagnostic tools for speech delays and other developmental issues, an overall goal in the field of language development.
"The study is safe and fun, and many families enjoy participating in the research studies as a fun activity with their baby," Tincoff said.
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