Publication of the Month: March 2023

Sensitivity to visual cues within motion events in monolingual and bilingual infants

Leher Singh, Tilbe Göksun, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnik Golinkoff 
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

It is well known that infants undergo developmental change in how they respond to language-relevant visual contrasts. For example, when viewing motion events, infants’ sensitivities to background information (“ground-path cues,” e.g., whether a background is flat and continuous or bounded) change with age. Prior studies with English and Japanese monolingual infants have demonstrated that 14-month-old infants discriminate between motion events that take place against different ground-paths (e.g., an unbounded field vs a bounded street). By 19 months of age, this sensitivity becomes more selective in monolingual infants; only learners of languages that lexically contrast these categories, such as Japanese, discriminate between such events. In this study, we investigated this progression in bilingual infants. We first replicated past reports of an age-related decline in ground-path sensitivity from 14 to 19 months in English monolingual infants living in a multilingual society. English–Mandarin bilingual infants living in that same society were then tested on discrimination of ground-path cues at 14, 19, and 24 months. Although neither the English nor Mandarin language differentiates motion events based on ground-path cues, bilingual infants demonstrated protracted sensitivity to these cues. Infants exhibited a lack of discrimination at 14 months, followed by discrimination at 19 months and a subsequent decline in discrimination at 24 months. In addition, bilingual infants demonstrated more fine-grained sensitivities to subtle ground cues not observed in monolingual infants.

Cute little Asian 18 months / 1 year old toddler boy child sitting on floor, leaning against pillow, looking at a book near white wall, Language development, Improve concentration & focus concept
Leher Singh, Tilbe Göksun, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. Sensitivity to visual cues within motion events in monolingual and bilingual infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, Volume 227, 2023.
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