Early in life, social interaction drives infant development and learning. Infants navigate the world around them through observing and imitating actions and engaging in pre-verbal communication. Actions are key to structuring infants’ development of concepts – they help them form mental representations of objects beyond purely perceptual features into concepts regarding knowledge about how an object behaves. By 14-months-old, infants can identify action based referents of abstract words and can understand the goals and intentions of others’ actions.
However, little research has examined how these early capacities may interact with word learning specifically, which could provide important insight into how children’s later sophisticated social and language abilities are driven by early skills in perceiving actions.
In the proposed research, I posit that early experiences with actions may mediate linguistic development. Across my PhD, I aim to examine the role that the sensorimotor system, action perception, and action experiences may play in infant verb learning.
I hope to begin identifying how these domains interact when language skills are at a crucial stage of development and are potentially buttressed by the ability to understand the actions of others. Within this context, I intend to address a series of questions that can directly assess what role the sensorimotor system plays in early verb processing, whether active experiences with actions influence infants’ later verb comprehension, and whether individual differences in infants’ motor capacities can predict later verb learning.