How are joint attention and social cognitive skills linked to language development during and beyond infancy?

Elements of social interaction during infancy, including joint attention, are thought to be crucial for language acquisition. These studies are investigating the effects of eye gaze and joint attention on language processing during infancy.

In order to explore these issues, we are examining infant brain responses to information in the environment.  This method, known as the event-related potential (ERP) technique, allows for the direct investigation of the neural systems involved in information processing even in the absence of overt behaviour.  It therefore provides valuable information about the way in which infants process information from their environment. 

The social-cognitive landscape is remarkably unexplored in terms of how social information influences learning about language during early development.  Our focus is on examining the relevance of joint attention cues (eye, head turn) to infant understanding of the link between objects and nouns for those objects. We further want to understand how joint attention cues influence the link between objects and language cues related to the object. Finally we aim to examine how social interactions influence verb understanding in early development.

All these questions explore how learning occurs in social situations.  We will take this one step further and examine what infants learn when they learn words.  We hypothesize that infants do not only learn a mere association between an object and its label during a social interaction. Rather infants learn that labels are referential symbols that represent the concept of object categories. Our work will explore how communication creates referential expectations in young infants with respect to social interactions and word learning.

Project Team: Vincent Reid (Lead), Eugenio Parise, Louah Sirri and Christian Kliesch

Start Date: March 2015

Duration: 4 years

(Work Package 3)