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Various measures of infant responsiveness have been shown to predict child outcomes. Despite this extensive research, there is no work examining links between infant responsiveness during caregiver-infant interactions with infants' ability to perform basic linguistic tasks. One key task in early linguistic development is word segmentation, an achievement that allows infants to build their mental dictionaries. We hypothesized that infants' responsiveness to caregiver facial expressions might be related to their word segmentation ability.

In order to test this hypothesis, mothers came into the lab and were videotaped reading books containing target words to their 5-month-old children. After the infants were read to, we tested their listening preference for words in the books, as well as novel words; this test yielded a preference score (preference for familiar vs. unfamiliar words). We also used the videotaped reading to code facial expressions for both infant and caregiver, and subsequently, we tabulated occasions where synchronous facial expressions occurred for each member of the dyad.

We then examined possible correlations between our preference score and measures gleaned from the dyadic facial expression coding. Although neither the number of infant-led synchronous facial expressions nor the total number of facial expressions produced by either member was significantly correlated with preference score, our measure of synchronous facial expressions led by the caregiver was highly correlated with preference score. Thus, results support the hypothesis that infant responsiveness during caregiver-infant interaction, as indexed by synchronous facial expressions with caregivers, may be related to language learning ability.


Video abstract produced by undergraduate students John Adam Krueger and Dominik Gliatis in a fall 2014 course from Purdue University’s Film and Video Studies program.