Oh Baby! New Lab to Explore Language Development

Image of infants with child studies professor
Tuesday, January 1, 2008 - 10:00am
Bruce Gillespie

If you've ever wondered how your children learn to speak and understand what you say to them, you'll have the chance to find out. This fall, psychology professor Elizabeth Johnson will open a new infant and toddler study lab at U of T Mississauga to research how children between the ages of four and 12 months develop language skills.

The new lab, which is partly funded by a $78,000 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation Learners Opportunity Fund, will be the first infant lab in the country, and only the second in the world, to feature an EyeLink Remote system. This is a special camera that can track where a child's eyes move while they watch a computer screen, which is helpful for experiments designed to discover how children respond to different images, words and sounds. "With this technology, the infant can be in the driver's seat," explains Johnson, "and where they look actually changes what they are presented with on screen."
Because Johnson works with a very specific age group, she is always looking for children to participate in her research, which makes it a great opportunity for alumni and their children. "We try to make it as fun as possible for parents and children," she explains. "We also do our best to educate parents about our research, as they often have questions about their children's development."

Johnson says most people assume you can only study how children develop language skills once they learn to speak. But by watching how children as young as four months turn their heads or move their eyes when they recognize sounds or hear new words, it's possible to understand how they are learning to comprehend speech. "They can't push buttons or answer questions, so you have to use special techniques to tap into their language abilities and be creative in how you ask what they know," she explains.

Alumni interested in participating in this research can phone the lab at 905-828-5446 or visit its web site.