Examining the role of social cues in early word learning
Infant word learning has become a popular field of study over the past decade. Research during this time has shown that infants can learn, in a short period of time, to attach words to objects. Two experiments on the role of social cues in early word learning are reported using tightly controlled conditions. Fourteen- and 18-month-old infants were trained by viewing a video of an adult pointing and nodding towards one of two different novel objects appearing on a screen simultaneously, while novel labels were emitted through a speaker. Infants’ looking times to each object were recorded both during training and test trials. Our analyses indicated that both 14-and 18-month-olds looked significantly longer at the object that the adult pointed to in the training trials. However, only 18-month-olds showed any evidence of looking longer at the target object during the test in the consistent condition than in the inconsistent (control) condition. These studies are important because they show, in a controlled laboratory study of infant word learning, that different types of social cues are available at different ages. Fourteen-month-olds are aware of adult pointing and head turning and can follow those cues to an object during training. However, it isn’t until 18 months of age that infants seem able to use those cues in the service of actual word learning.