The Development of Gaze Following in Monolingual and Bilingual Infants: A Multi-Lab Study

Abstract

Determining the meanings of words requires language learners to attend to what other people say. However, it behooves a young language learner to simultaneously attend to what other people attend to, for example, by following the direction of their eye gaze. Sensitivity to cues such as eye gaze might be particularly important for bilingual infants, as they encounter less consistency between words and objects than monolinguals, and do not always have access to the same word learning heuristics (eg, mutual exclusivity). In a pre-registered study, we tested the hypothesis that bilingual experience would lead to a more pronounced ability to follow another’s gaze. We used the gaze-following paradigm developed by Senju & Csibra (2008) to test a total of 93 6–9 month-old and 229 12–15 month-old monolingual and bilingual infants, in 11 labs located in 8 countries. Monolingual and bilingual infants showed similar gaze-following abilities, and both groups showed age-related improvements in speed, accuracy, frequency and duration of fixations to congruent objects. Unexpectedly, bilinguals tended to make more frequent fixations to onscreen objects, whether or not they were cued by the actor. These results suggest that gaze sensitivity is a fundamental aspect of development that is robust to variation in language exposure.

Joscelin Rocha-Hidalgo
Joscelin Rocha-Hidalgo
Ph.D. Candidate
she, her, hers

My research interests include bilingualism and cognition during infancy and early childhood.