Most infants and toddlers have a prodigious ability to learn, in part because they spend a lot of time interacting with caregivers. In the Princeton Baby Lab, we study how the mechanisms of infant cognition and the details of environmental experience combine to shape early learning. In particular, we study the beginnings of language learning and communication.
Each infant's ability to find structure in patterned input is rooted in and shaped by experience. To investigate why experience is important, we manipulate subtle aspects of exposure to language in distilled, 5-minute simulations of learning, and we also define experience in a more ecologically valid way by investigating typicality vs. adversity in developmental circumstances. Using a broad construal of what it means to be in a non-standard language environment, our research includes children learning two languages, children in poverty, children at risk for learning delays/disorders, and adults learning a second language. We combine motivations and methods from the fields of psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and communication sciences & disorders, and we measure the complexities of eye movements, attention to referents, infant-directed speech, communication with others, and infant-adult neural coupling.