Infant contributions to joint attention predict vocabulary development


Joint attention has long been accepted as constituting a privileged circumstance in which word learning prospers. Consequently research has investigated the role that maternal responsiveness to infant attention plays in predicting language outcomes. However there has been a recent expansion in research implicating similar predictive effects from individual differences in infant behaviours. Emerging from the foundations of such work comes an interesting question: do the relative contributions of the mother and infant to joint attention episodes impact upon language learning? In an attempt to address this, two joint attention behaviours were assessed as predictors of vocabulary attainment (as measured by OCDI Production Scores). These predictors were: mothers encouraging attention to an object given their infant was already attending to an object (maternal follow-in); and infants looking to an object given their mothers encouragement of attention to an object (infant follow-in). In a sample of 14-month old children (N=36) we compared the predictive power of these maternal and infant follow-in variables on concurrent and later language performance. Results using Growth Curve Analysis provided evidence that while both maternal follow-in and infant follow-in variables contributed to production scores, infant follow-in was a stronger predictor. Consequently it does appear to matter whose final contribution establishes joint attention episodes. Infants who more often follow-in into their mothers’ encouragement of attention have larger, and faster growing vocabularies between 14 and 18-months of age.

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