The ability to learn and remember social information is important for human development. This is particularly true in infancy and early childhood, when learning about things like cultural norms, language, and moral values is dependent on the information provided by social partners. This project focuses on the social contexts that form the foundation for early learning and memory. How and when do children choose which type of person to learn from? How does early social experience shape this selective learning? Are social situations fundamentally better for learning and memory early in life? By combining behavioral, eye-tracking, and electrophysiological (event-related potential; ERP) methodologies, this project examines the importance and intricacies of social learning across early development.
Preferences in Early Learning
Like adults, children often prefer to interact with others who are more similar to themselves. However, the extent to which these preferences influence learning across early development is still widely unknown. If children prefer individuals with certain traits (such as the language they speak), does that mean they are also more likely to select them as sources of information? Can previous experience with people who are “different” (e.g., those who speak a different language) influence how likely children are to learn from others who are different in the future? Using imitation, eye tracking, and toy choice methods, we can examine how likely children are to interact with and learn from people who are similar or different to themselves.
Learning in the Presence of Others
This project goes beyond the examination of variations within social situations (a.k.a, whether children choose to learn from one person over another) and focuses more directly on whether learning in the presence of social partners is fundamentally different than learning in their absence. We know that the presence of a person changes how children react to things “in the moment”. For example, when a person points or looks at something, it directs the child’s attention in a certain direction. However, it is not yet clear whether the presence of a person actually alters what children remember after a long period of time. Do children remember more about an event when they see a person in it as opposed to seeing the same event without a person? This project uses eye tracking and object-reconstruction techniques to examine the influence of people on memory in infancy and childhood.
- Howard, L.H., Henderson, A.M.E, Carrazza, C. & Woodward, A. (in press). Infants’ and young children’s imitation of linguistic ingroup and outgroup informants.Child Development.
- Howard, L.H. Carrazza, C. & Woodward, A. L. (2014, online). Neighborhood linguistic diversity predicts infants’ social learning. Cognition, 133(2), 474-479.