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Researchers Determine Mothers Orchestrate Infant Attention to Teach New Words

ITHACA, NY — Using eye tracking technology, researchers at Ithaca College and UCLA and have found that gestures mothers use in teaching their infants new words are vital for infant word learning. The findings were presented in Berlin, Germany, at the biennial conference sponsored by the International Society on Infant Studies (ISIS).

Nancy Rader, professor of psychology at Ithaca College, and Patricia Zukow-Goldring, research scholar at UCLA, report that mothers’ gestures direct infant attention in such a way that infants look directly at the relevant object as the word for it is introduced. They found by measuring the child’s pupil diameter that the gesture also results in enhanced arousal and better attention just at the time the infant views the object and hears the word for it. The result?  Babies 9 to 15 months of age learn a new word significantly better when the gesture is used than without it.

ISIS highlights research on development during the foundational early years. Rebecca Post, who recently earned her degree in applied psychology from Ithaca College, presented the research findings at the conference.

For more information, contact Nancy Rader at