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Learning about Objects from Interpersonal Verbal and Emotional Communication


Interpersonal communication provides information about objects in the environment. Usually studied in the context of word learning, social-attentional cues and word-to-world timing contingencies during infants’ object engagement facilitate learning the words for referents. However, the role of emotional communication in such processes is understudied. This dissertation presents three studies that assess the impact of caregivers’ verbal and emotional communication on infants’ word and object learning. Study 1 examined the effect of caregivers’ verbal pragmatics on 13-month-old crawling and walking infants’ word learning. The results indicated that caregivers’ verbal encouragement to act on objects related with crawling infants’ word learning. Study 2 investigated the role of emotions on 2-year-olds’ inferences of intentionality from non-random sampling events. Findings indicated that 2-year-olds inferred that an agent could intentionally select a preferred or undesired object from a sample as a function of the discrete emotion expressed. Study 3 examined the influence of discrete emotions on 2-year-olds’ word learning and attention to objects. Results suggested that discrete emotions may not affect word-object learning but could influence young learners’ attention to objects and agents. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that interpersonal verbal and emotional communication affects learning about objects early in development.

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