The impact of parental mind-mindedness and contingent responding on children’s later vocabulary

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For 6 weeks in the summer, I worked as a LuCiD Intern at the University of Manchester’s Child Study Centre. I was supervised by Prof Anna Theakston and contributed towards the ongoing project ‘Parental mind-mindedness and contingent talk: the same or different effects on later language learning’. This research aims to assess to what extent mind-mindedness (the tendency for a caregiver to comment on a child’s mental states and emotions) and contingent talk (a caregiver’s responses which relate to an infant’s current interest and which occur within an appropriate time frame) influence children’s later language development. The ultimate objective is to determine whether or not these can be considered separate constructs.

My role involved coding video data of 20 mother-child dyads using ELAN software. The videos displayed interactions between the caregiver and their child while looking at a display board and during play sessions. These were recorded at three time points, when the infant was 10, 11 and 12 months old. I applied a coding scheme to identify mind-related comments within the caregiver language. Two types of comments were categorised as mind-related: 1) those which explicitly referred to internal states such as those relating to the infant’s mental states, processes, emotions or attempts to manipulate other’s beliefs and 2) those where the caregiver spoke on the child’s behalf. I then coded these mind-related comments based on appropriateness, depending on whether they, for example, appeared to successfully interpret the infant’s mental state. Following this, I calculated the frequency and proportion of mind-related and appropriate comments within the caregiver language. Through being involved in coding, I now have a better understanding of carrying out this process. I look forward to the results of this fascinating project, as I think they will potentially shape current understanding of mind-mindedness.

In addition, I observed other ongoing research and engaged in activities outside the lab, for example, recruiting families at the museum. This broadened my understanding of various processes involved in carrying out research, such as data collection and recruitment, including an appreciation of possible challenges faced during these. Watching research also enabled me to learn about different methodology employed to explore language learning in children e.g. how to use an eye tracker. I also attended fortnightly team meetings. During one of these, I updated everyone on the work I was doing, explained the issues experienced during coding and sought their opinion in categorising the more ambiguous utterances. These meetings really improved my awareness of recent research and allowed me to listen to and participate in lively, interesting discussions.

I have enjoyed completing this internship and am grateful to have been given this opportunity. My previous knowledge of conducting research and of child communication development was limited to that I had gained at undergraduate level. This experience has enabled me to build on this; developing my understanding and skill-set further. I believe these gains in confidence, knowledge and skills will be invaluable as I undertake my project in the third-year of my psychology degree.




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