The goal of our project was to determine whether the type of cue used by a speaker to name a novel object impacted whether word learning occurred in two to five year olds. We wanted to see whether a gesture where the speaker was actively involved (pointing) was needed for word learning or whether any gesture that attracted attention to the object (a brief flash on the screen) would suffice. To test this, we developed stimuli videos in which the speaker sat behind two novel objects and described one of the objects using a novel word. There were three conditions these videos were made under: the speaker briefly pointing to the target object, the speaker pointing to the target object for an extended period of time, and a black square flashing over the target object for 30 ms. Using an eyetracker, we measured the looking times of subjects to see whether they would associate the novel word with the target object. We piloted the experiment on college students and faculty and found that the condition where the black square flashed on the screen was the most successful in producing looking to the object. These preliminary results led us to cautiously conclude that a gesture where the speaker is actively involved is not needed for word learning.
Through this experience, I learned not only specific technical skills but also big picture ideas that will aid me in future research and my education. Developing the stimuli videos taught me a basic knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and Premiere. We also used a Matlab program to run the experiment on the eyetracker, so I also learned some Matlab commands and how to troubleshoot within the program. Through running participants, I learned the procedure of interacting with participants. More generally, brainstorming ideas for the stimuli video and analyzing the problems in the rough drafts of these videos taught me how to think like a research and anticipate criticisms peers may have. Finally, doing background reading in preparation for this project allowed me to learn more about previous work done in the areas of early word learning and stimuli processing in children’s minds, topics that will definitely come up in my Cognitive Science studies