Examining the multimodal effects of parent speech in parent-infant interactions

AbstractParental input in the form of visual joint attention is hypothesized to serve a critical role in the development of infant attention, acting as a training ground by scaffolding an infant’s ability to sustain visual attention in real-time. We extended this hypothesis by studying the effects of parent speech on infant visual and manual attention. Thirty-four toddlers and their parents participated in a free-play study while wearing head-mounted eye trackers. Infant multimodal behaviors were measured in four ways: visual attention, manual action, hand-eye coordination, and joint visual attention with their parent. Overall, we found that longer durations of attention were accompanied by parent speech. Moreover, sustained attention, defined as behaviors lasting 3s or more, almost always occurred with parent speech. Individual differences in parent-infant coordination were also explored. These results suggest that parent-infant interactions create multimodal opportunities for infants to practice sustaining attention.

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