Funded Grants

Examination of infant learning in naturalistic interactions

This project examines how infants learn during play. Although decades of research have provided insight into infants’ learning in artificial laboratory tasks (often with artificial stimuli), much less is known about how infants learn in more naturalistic contexts, such as play. However, most of infants’ everyday learning actually occurs in contexts such as play. Thus, it is critical to examine infants’ learning in such contexts. This project builds on a body of work uncovering the information available to infants in naturalistic contexts. This previous work has shown how infants’ encounters with objects and people change with emerging motor abilities, how their attention and behavior varies when playing alone versus with others, and how the language spoken to them changes across development. This project will document not only the changes in information that infants experience, but also how their learning is shaped by changes in information. For example, consider the changes in infants’ interactions with objects over development. Infants who can sit independently and pick up objects have access to more views of the object (e.g., front, sides, and back) than do infants who have not yet achieved this developmental milestone. By using sophisticated video recording and wearable eye tracking methods, this project will examine developmental shifts in access to information about objects and people. That is, this project will go beyond merely understanding what the infant sees, and focus on the mechanisms that underlie this process and how this information shapes subsequent learning. By also using procedures designed to test infants’ learning, this project will examine infants’ learning as a function of their experience. For example, it will be possible to determine whether infants who have access to more views of objects demonstrate a noticeably different experience of these objects, as measured by their stored understanding and visual inspection of it, than do infants who see fewer views of the objects. Finally, by comparing how infants interact with parents during play and infants’ performance in the learning assessment, we can determine how parents scaffold their infants’ experience to facilitate their learning. The goals of this project will be achieved by observing infants at multiple times between 5 and 14 months of age. This is a time period when infants’ learning changes significantly as a function of changes in motor, cognitive, and linguistic development. Infants will be observed during play with a caregiver and their learning during that play session will be assessed. Thus, this project will generate data that will inform our understanding of how the information infants have access to changes over development, and how their learning depends on the changes in the input.