Why behavioral data collection works

Why behavioral data collection works

Saturday, 31 December, 2011

Understanding development in infancy

How are scholars studying learning in infancy? How do they study parental influence? Which methods and techniques are useful and which aren’t? Below are several examples of methods and techniques used in infant behavior research.

  • Questionnaires or interviews can aid in the gathering of valuable data – particularly when the observations of the spectators (doctors, parents, nurses, etc.) are important. One must of course be cautious: when examined through rose-colored glasses, the child under observation could be described in glowing terms. On the other hand, comments could also be negative. Other research methods can help in the objectification of one’s research.

  • The Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL) paradigm, a model for exploring language learning and development, is sometimes used in cognitive linguistics. The question, “When and how does language acquisition begin?” is tackled by observing behavior in a controlled environment using the IPL paradigm. A quiet room is of course necessary for proper examination. The IPL paradigm is based on the fact that children tend to look at scenes which correspond to sentences they hear. Employing this technique allows researchers to integrate a more implicit measure of sentence comprehension (eye gaze duration) compared to acting purely on linguistic stimuli. Consequently, researchers will be able to test much younger children. For more information, please read Styles and Plunkett 2009 to see how they explored word comprehension.

  • Eye tracking technology is often used in infant behavior research. In a study carried out by Daniel Yurovsky and colleagues (2010), eye trackers were used to attempt determine a link between learning and viewing. Preferential looking tests were used to determine whether infants had learned the correct pairings. Direction of gaze was recorded by a Tobii X60 eye-tracker as well as a camera oriented towards the child’s eyes. For more information about their results, please see their publication or or watch a Youtube video in which 5 month old infant is eye tracked using a Tobii Eye Tracker.

  • Cecchini (2011) tested if newborns prefer to look at a previously known communicative face compared to a new face. In addition, newborns’ strategies of gazing at a previously known communicative face compared to a previously known still-face were investigated. This study was conducted with all newborns lying flat in their cradles in a quiet room. The most important finding was that the newborns preferred to look at a new face rather than a previously known face only when the known face was previously seen in a motionless condition (still face situation). The recordings were coded using an Observer system. In this paper Cecchini et al. published 4 figures which demonstrate exactly how the experiment was carried out.


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  1. Cecchini, M.; Baroni, E.; Di Vito, C.; Piccolo, F.; Lai, C. (2011). Newborn preference for a new face vs. previously seen communicative or motionless face. Infant Behavior and Development34 (3), 424-433.
  2. Styles, S.; Plunkett, K. (2009). What is ‘word understanding’ for the parent of a one-year old? Matching the difficulty of a lexical comprehension task to parental CDI report. Journal of Child Language36 (4), 895-908.
  3. Yurovsky, D.; Hidaka, S.; Yu, C.; Smith, L. B. (2010). Linking Learning to Looking: Habituation and Association in Infant Statistical Language Learning. In Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society Austin, TX, 1589-1594.