NSF grant awarded
to Nancy Rader for Infant Language Research
How do infants first discover what
segment of a stream of speech names an object, movement, or attribute?
Imagine the problem being similar to the one you would face in a
foreign country hearing an unfamiliar language for the first time.
Not only would you not know the meaning of each word, you most likely
would not be able to identify where a word begins and ends.
The National Science Foundation's
division of Behavioral and Cognitive Science has awarded Nancy Rader,
Associate Professor of Psychology, $135,300 to carry out research
designed to answer this question. Specifically, Rader and her students
will be looking at the role that caregiver gestures play in helping
the infant to link sound and referent. Working with infants 9-14
months old, they will carry out a set of four studies that examine
how early word learning is influenced by the dynamic nature of the
gesture and its timing. While infants view carefully constructed
digital video scenarios, their looking behavior and heart rate will
The studies are based on a perceptual
theory developed by Rader's former graduate student at UCLA, Patricia
Zukow-Goldring. Dr. Zukow-Goldring, now in the Linguistics Department
at the University of Southern California, has also received NSF
funding to study infants in Los Angeles whose families speak Spanish.
Rader and Zukow-Goldring will coordinate their research, with each
visiting the other site to ensure comparability.
The planned set of studies is based
on preliminary research carried out by Theresa Cain '99 as an honors
project in Psychology. A paper by Zukow-Goldring, Rader, and Cain
was presented at an International Conference on Infant Studies in
Brighton, England in July, 2000, presented the theoretical foundation
and described the results of Cain's project. Recently, Zukow-Goldring
and Rader published a commentary on their theory of early language
acquisition in the British journal, Developmental Science.
In addition to providing for other
expenses, the NSF grant will fund four undergraduate interns each
year, two during the academic year and two during the summer. The
student interns will assist with many aspects of the project, including
creating videotaped scenarios for the infants to view and working
with the infants who come to the Cognition Laboratory in Williams
Hall to be participants in the studies.
To carry out the research at Ithaca
College, Dr. Rader is seeking 40 infants from English-speaking families
with varied educational backgrounds. She encourages anyone with
an infant who would like to participate, or who would like more
information, to call her at 274-3510.