Verbs are central to the syntactic structure of sentences, and, thus, important for learning one’s native language. This study examined how children visually inspect events as they hear, and do not hear, a new verb. Specifically, there is evidence that children may focus on the agent of the action or may prioritize attention to the action being performed; to date, little evidence is available. This study used an eye tracker to track 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds’ looking to the agent (i.e., face) vs. action (i.e., hands) while viewing events linked to a new verb as well as distractor events. A Tobii X30 eye tracker recorded children’s fixations to AOIs (head/face and hands) as they watched three target events and two distractor events in different orders during the learning phase, and pointed to one of two events in two test trials. This was repeated for a second novel verb. Pointing results show that children in all age groups were able to learn and extend the new verbs to new events at test. Additionally, across age groups, when viewing target events, children increased their looking to the hands (where the action is taking place) as those trials progressed and decreased their looking to the agents’ face, which is less informative for learning a new verb’s meaning. In contrast, when viewing distractor events, children decreased their looking to hands over trials and maintained their attention to the face. In summary, children’s visual attention to agents’ faces and hands differed depending on whether the events cooccurred with the new verb. These results are important as this is the first study to show this pattern of visual attention during verb learning, and, thus, these results help reveal underlying attentional strategies children may use when learning verbs.
Childers, J. B., Warkentin, E., Porter, B. M., Young, M., Lalani, S., & Gopalkrishnan, A. (2022). Preschool children's processing of events during verb learning: Is the focus on people (faces) or their actions (hands)?. Brain Sciences, 12(3), Article 344. http://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci12030344
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