In some of our studies, we investigate infants’ understanding of talk about absent things. We are curious about when and how babies understand that you can use language to talk about things that are not present (for example, parents who are away for the day, missing toys, or upcoming events). In other studies, we ask questions about how preschoolers learn names for things.
In both kinds of studies a main goal is to find out what kinds of non-language skills might support infants’ and children’s understanding of language. For infants, we ask whether their ability to hold things in mind helps them figure out what people are talking about when the people or objects that are discussed are not present. For preschoolers, we ask whether their use of questions helps them learn words.
Our studies have previously involved a one-time, hour long visit to our child playroom on Vanderbilt’s Peabody campus, where parents remain in the testing room with children the entire time.
Our studies more recently have expanded to online platforms, which involve a one-time, <1 hour long session on Zoom. Parents are welcome to sit and watch or just be in the room nearby.
Our studies are designed to be enjoyable for infants and children. During the study, we might try to teach a child some new words or ask him or her to find hidden objects. We learn about how children learn words from how they respond to our questions. Children receive a book or small toy when they participate in-person, or small e-gift card when they participate online.