Eye Gaze Does Not Attenuate Cognitive Load on 14-Month-Olds' Word-Object Associative Learning for Minimal Pairs

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Virginia Tech

It is well established in developmental science that 14-month-old infants have significant difficulty associating pairs of objects with pairs of words that differ by a single phoneme (i.e., minimal pairs). This study used a traditional switch procedure in two experimental conditions (i.e., no face versus face with shifting gaze) to habituate infants with objects and minimal pair labels. Additionally, infants participated in a joint attention task and parents completed questionnaires related to family demographics and infant health and development, to compare to switch task performance. It was expected that infants' difficulty with minimal pair associative learning would be replicated in the no face condition. It was also predicted that the addition of a female face and the cues it could provide would abate the challenge that this task typically presents. As a group, infants' performances in the two conditions were not significantly different from each other and were not significantly different from chance. Analyses explored the relations between switch performance, joint attention task performance and questionnaire data, resulting in a significant correlation between performance in the face condition of the switch task and number of ear infections (r = .62, p < .05). Taken together, the addition of a female face with shifting gaze to a challenging word learning task does not sufficiently attenuate the cognitive load created by the task. The implications of these results are discussed further.

Social Attention, Word Learning, Habituation, Switch Task