New paper: "Infant gaze following depends on communicative signals: An eye-tracking study of 5- to 7-month-olds in Vanuatu"

November 28, 2018

Highlights:

  • We used portable eye-tracking to assess infant gaze-following in rural Vanuatu, where face-to-face parent-infant interactions are less prevalent than in Western urban populations.

  • Like Western 6-month-olds studied before, Ni-Vanuatu 5- to 7-month olds followed gaze-shifts preceded by infant-directed speech, but not those preceded by adult-directed speech.

  • Results are consistent with the notion that gaze-following is tied to infants’ early emerging communicative competencies and rooted in mechanisms potentially universal across human groups.

Abstract

Gaze is considered a crucial component of early communication between an infant and her caregiver. When communicatively addressed infants respond aptly to others’ gaze by following its direction. However, experience with face-to- face contact varies across cultures, begging the question whether infants’ competencies in receiving others’ communicative gaze-signals are universal or culturally specific. We used eye-tracking to assess gaze-following responses of 5- to 7-month olds in Vanuatu, where face-to-face parent-infant interactions are less prevalent than in Western populations. We found that – just like Western 6- month-olds studied previously – 5- to -7-month-olds living in Vanuatu followed gaze only, when communicatively addressed. That is, if presented gaze-shifts were preceded by infant-directed speech, but not if they were preceded by adult- directed speech. These results are consistent with the notion that early infant gaze-following is tied to infants’ early emerging communicative competencies and rooted in universal mechanisms rather than dependent on cultural specificities of early socialization.

Reference:

Hernik, M. & Broesch, T. (in press). Infant gaze following depends on communicative signals: An eye-tracking study of 5- to 7-month-olds in Vanuatu. Developmental Science.

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