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Language development in infancy: How neural methods can clarify what we know from behavior alone

From 12/12/2022 to 12/12/2022

Richard ASLIN - Haskins Laboratories and Yale Child Study Center and Yale Psychology - 
 has given a talk on Zoom.

Short abstract:

Studies of language development in infancy made major advances in the past 50 years by relying on a variety of behavioral methods, such as non-nutritive sucking, head-turning, and eye-tracking.  These methods have revealed sophisticated abilities in the first 6 months of infancy, including phonetic discrimination, word recognition, and the beginnings of grammar learning as infants extract the distributional properties of their native language.  However, these behavioral methods have limitations – they rarely provide a measure of an individual infant’s performance and they do not reveal the neural mechanism that underlies the development of these behavioral milestones.  I will first review what we know about these milestones in the first two years of life among both monolinguals and bilinguals.  Then I will summarize how modern neuroimaging methods developed to study the adult brain may provide a window on language development in the infant brain.  These neuroimaging methods include EEG/MEG, fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy), and most recently fMRI in awake infants.  These studies can apply machine-learning techniques to both univariate and multivariate signals from the brain, as well as functional connectivity among brain regions, to decode mental states on a trial-by-trial basis.  These methods are powerful tools not only for studies of normative development, but also for studies of clinical populations.  I will end by highlighting several examples that apply these methods to studies using naturalistic movie-watching paradigms.

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