Babies coo and smile soon after entering the world, but how much do they really understand? Ruth Tincoff, an assistant professor of psychology, is looking to answer that question. “Babies can connect a voice and a face at an early age, but do they connect that a word is about something in the world?” Tincoff said.

Tincoff conducts experiments measuring babies’ responses to recorded words as they sit on their parents’ laps and watch lights or videos presented with the words.  She analyzes their responses on video to determine which words and sounds capture the babies’ attention.

She has found that at six months, babies recognize certain words such as mommy and daddy, and they also seem to understand words like hands and feet. Tincoff looks at the connection between language development as an extension of social and cognitive development rather than a separate ability.