Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Which Flower is Bulorfulling?

Among the many offers for formula, portraiture, diapers, etc., that came streaming through our mailsolt after Quinn was born was one interesting plea from Infant Studies at the University of Maryland. Basically researchers and students in the linguistics, psychology and speech and hearing programs are looking for kids from birth up to age 10 for help with various studies about cognition, hearing, and language acquisition.

Naturally, I couldn't pass up the chance to offer up my first and second born for the sake of science. I filled out the card (and if any one reading this is in the D.C. metropole and has a young kid or is about to, check out the program website; they're always looking for more kids for the database for possible studies) and sent it in and within a week or so we got a call for a linguistics study involving Celeste.

Basically, the goal is to look at how kids might learn/understand verbs. After Celeste spent a little time doing puzzles and free playing with one of the researchers while I filled out a consent form, a word inventory*, and other paperwork, we went into a little room with a big screen television.

I'd put out the caveat that Celeste doesn't really watch TV (every now and then outside of the house she might get a glimpse of what I tell her is a "magic light box," but usually it doesn't hold her interest too long), but they didn't think that would skew the data.

Basically, Celeste sat in a highchair in front of the screen. I sat behind her so she couldn't see me (and I couldn't cue her or otherwise affect the results). And then, with at least two cameras recording, the video started. It seemed a bit like a Baby Einstein video, albeit with some made-up words: "Look at the flower. The flower is bulorfulling. Which flower is bulorfulling?" The researchers were tracking which images/parts of the screen Celeste was watching at what times to see if she looked in the right direction when the "Which flower is bulorfulling?" question was asked.

From where I was, there were at least one or two times when she tilted her head in a way that made me think she was looking where they wanted her to, but I couldn't see her face to know for sure.

The actual test lasted about 5 minutes; the paperwork and playtime before hand took about 30. And Celeste came out of it with a new book, Elmo's World: Animals!. I dinnae mean for her to get a Red Menace book, but she kept focusing in on the Sandra Boyton books she already owns; I just saw "Animals!" on the spine and pulled it out for her. She immediately noticed Elmo.

UPDATE: Here's a description of the research methods being used by the language acquisitiion lab. Although the specifics outlined are different, I'm pretty sure the test Celeste was part of fall under the "Preferential Looking" method.

Also, despite joking that I would, I didn't tell the researchers that we've been trying to speak only Proto-Indo-European around Celeste ...

*Only spoken words were counted, so things that Celeste only signs, such as MILK, weren't counted even though she knows and uses the sign for the word. I also couldn't count the kissy noise that means giraffe; for some reason giraffe wasn't one of the animal sounds in the inventory.

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