Development of eye gaze and point following and its relation to word learning

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Kainz, Meghan Ann

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Socio-pragmatic cues are essential for supporting early word learning. Children use social cues, such as eye gaze and pointing to isolate and learn about referents in their environment. To what extent might individual variability in children’s ability to capitalize on these word-learning strategies relate to the well-documented differences in vocabulary development associated with socioeconomic status? To answer this question, we asked 170 2.5- to 3.5-year-olds to identify the referents of novel words based on cues from either the experimenter’s gaze alone, or that gaze in combination with a pointing gesture. We found that socioeconomic status correlates with the use of eye gaze and point following for learning new words. Further, children from higher socioeconomic status households more reliably used these cues. The results of this study could have implications for our understanding of the differences in vocabulary development, as well as on how to best intervene in children’s early word-learning skills.



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