Visual Characteristics of Maternal Gesturing and the Role in Early Attentional Organization
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Many researchers have focused on the types of gestures parents make that are most prevalent during a word learning task, that are most relevant to word learning, and the social benefits surrounding the understanding of gesture behavior. Though we know so much about parental use of gestures and the benefits they have on a child’s word learning, we know little about the visual consequences that gestures provide and the processes underlying the benefit. The characteristics of parental gesturing that is relevant to language development have yet to be explored. The current study asks how parents gesture with their infants in a word learning interaction task, and how infants capture and attend to this input. Furthermore, the study looks at object size changes due to gesturing, which may provide perceptually meaningful information that may support word learning, and the impacts that parental gesturing have on an infants’ sustained attention. To address these aims, the proposed study will look at seven types of parental gestures and hand motions, including deictic, symbolic, shaking, looming, upwards, downwards, and other (conventional and beat). Eleven infants ages 5 to 7 months (prelexical group) and eleven infants ages 9 to 11 months (early lexical group) and their parents participated in the study. Parents and children sat across from each other while wearing eye-tracking devices during a word learning play session involving a set of toys. Parents taught their infant eight words they heard over a recording using any toy they choose from toys that were provided, with 40 seconds given for each word. Results showed that there were no differences in the way parents gestured towards prelexical and early lexical infants, but that they used each gesture type at different frequencies. It was also found that infants attended to relevant cues (hands, objects, or face) differently and that objects were looked at the most compared to parent hands, child hands, and face for both groups. Interestingly, gestures guided the attention of the prelexical group to relevant cues more than the early lexical group. Results also showed that though sustained attention moments for infants in both groups did not account for a significant portion of their looking behavior, a significant portion of these sustained moments were a result of parent gesture. Lastly, there were no significant differences in object size changes in relation to parent gesture, but results suggest that when the size changes more, infants look at a relevant cue more. The thesis concludes with a general discussion of the findings, limitations that may have impacted data analysis, and interesting future directions.