July 9, 2009
Language Development

Elizabeth went to university for the first time today, in order to participate in a language development study.


When we were invited to sign up, research assistant Tamara described her study as follows: "We're investigating infants' ability to use sound detail when learning a new word. In order to do this, we will have infants sit (on a parent's lap) watching an image on a TV screen at the same time that they hear a word being played over and over (labelling the object on the screen). Once the baby becomes bored with this word, we will switch it with a similar but different sounding word. If the baby notices the switch, as indicated by an increase in looking time at the screen, then this will show that they can distinguish the two similar sounding words."  Apparently infants can usually distinguish between all sounds at birth, but by the time they are six months old they begin to lose the ability to distinguish between similar sounding words if those sounds are not found in their native language.  The research is intended to help clarify how this happens.  They are particularly interested in analyzing the impact of exposure to multiple languages, especially for bilingual children.


Unfortunately, while Elizabeth was very happy to coo and smile for Tamara before the start of the experiment, Elizabeth became quite upset as soon as the voice started talking.  She didn't seem that thrilled by the pulsing dots on the screen either.  I wasn't allowed to speak during the experiment and was given a pair of headphones playing music to drown out the voice.  The idea was that this would prevent me from cuing Elizabeth when the sound changed.  We tried a couple of times.  The second time Elizabeth had her rattle.  She was happy as a clam chewing away even during the pulsing dots phase, but as soon as the checkerboard pattern came onto the screen and the voice starting talking, Elizabeth started to wail.  Apparently some kids don't really like it when they can't see the person who is talking, and Elizabeth is one of them.


Given that Elizabeth was so uncooperative, I was a bit too shy to ask permission to take photos.  Luckily the lab has a virtual tour which shows what we experienced extremely well!

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