May 6, 2009

NSF grant focuses on baby talk

How do infants learn to talk? The vocalizations of infants undergo a tremendous amount of developmental change over the first year as early babbling gradually becomes words. Not much is known, however, about the mechanisms that drive that development.

Assistant psychology professor Michael Goldstein hopes to learn more about them with the help of a $352,000 National Science Foundation grant over the next three years.

Goldstein will use the grant to continue his work at Cornell's Behavioral Analysis of Beginning Years (BABY) Laboratory, where he is co-director.

At the lab, Goldstein and his team observe and manipulate the responses of parents to their infants' babbling to study how infants learn to communicate. Goldstein has found that social reactions to babbling facilitate learning of speech and language.

The research could have broad implications for teaching parents how to provide the best learning environments for their infants. It could also help in the design of interventions for the types of communication problems seen in infants with autism and Down syndrome.

As a fellow of Cornell's Institute for the Social Sciences (ISS) in 2008 and a recipient of an ISS grant, Goldstein received support for pilot studies, research and grant preparation.