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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Visual attention and language exposure during everyday activities: an at-home study of early word learning using wearable eye trackers


Early language learning relies on statistical regularities that exist across timescales in infants’ lives. Two types of these statistical regularities are the routine activities that make up their day, such as mealtime and play, and the real-time repeated behaviors that make up the moment-by-moment dynamics of those routines. These two types of regularities are different in nature and are embedded at two different temporal scales, which led to divergent research in the literature – those who collect long-form recordings and observations of at-home behavior and those who use eye trackers and micro-level analyses to quantify real-time behavior in laboratories. The goal of present paper is to jointly examine and connect the statistical regularities at these two timescales. Towards this goal, we brought wearable eye trackers to English- and Spanish-speaking families’ homes to record parent and toddler visual attention during daily routines. We transcribed parent speech during object play and mealtime and coded toddler visual attention during naming moments. We found that parents and toddlers jointly interacted with the unique vocabularies of the two activities. Although naming and attention were more coordinated during object play, mealtime still afforded opportunities for high-quality naming moments. Our results lay the building blocks for connecting these two lines of research and demonstrate the feasibility of at-home data collection with eye trackers.

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