The Interrelation Between Language Ability, Social Referencing Skills, and Infants' Goal Understanding at 9.5 Months of Age
Brainerd, Rachel H.
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This study investigated the relationship between infants' social referencing, prior language comprehension, and understanding an actor's goal-directed actions. Infants (M= 9.5 months of age. n = 64) took part in a habituation paradigm designed to assess infants' ability to extend object goals across contextual changes. Infants were habituated to an event in which an actor repeatedly selected one of two toys, and received test trials in another room. On test trials the location of the toys were reversed and the actor pursued another toy in the same relative location as her initial toy (new toy trials) in alternation with test trials where the actor reached for the same target toy from habituation, now in a new relative position (new path trials). Infants in the labels condition (n = 32) heard the actor produce a language utterance during habituation trials (e.g., "I like frogs") and infants in the no labels condition (n = 32) did not. Infants' social referencing and other socio-cognitive skills produced across habituation trials were coded. Infants' language comprehension was measured via parental report using the MacArthur vocabulary checklist short form (Fenson et al., 2000). Significant positive relationships existed between total language comprehension and social referencing occurrences, and between social referencing and infants' preference for the new goal on test trials, for infants in the labels condition. Specifically infants in the labels condition who had a higher reported language comprehension used more social referencing looks during the experiment and exhibited a greater preference for test events in which the actor pursued a novel toy, suggesting that they expected the actor to maintain her same goal across contexts. These findings suggest that a relationship between infants' use of socio-cognitive skills and language lead to subsequent social cognition.