Project Detail
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Experience and cognitive development in infancy  

In this project, Dr. Oakes will examine how infants' everyday experiences shape their learning. Most theories of cognitive development argue for the role of experience in processes such as learning, memory, and perception, but few studies have systematically examined how experience shapes changes in cognition. This project will fill this gap by systematically examining how naturally occurring differences in experience (e.g., living with a pet versus not living with a pet) and experimentally enhanced experience (e.g., being provided with a picture book of unfamiliar animals to read) contributes to infants' learning of, attention to, and perception of images. In the first year of life, as infants interact with the people and animals they encounter, they learn about faces, emotions, language, the behavior typical of particular kinds of animals (e.g., dogs bark and cats meow), etc. This project will enhance our understanding of this important process by examining aspects of looking behavior by 3- to 9-month-old infants as they visually investigate images of animals and human faces. Differences in how long infants look, precisely where they look (e.g. the heads versus the tails of dogs, the eyes versus the ears of human faces) will reveal how infants are perceiving, attending to, and learning about those images. By comparing infants with more or less relevant experience, this project will uncover differences in how infants' previous experience influences their learning about images. Moreover, by experimentally enhancing experience through the provision of picture books created for this study (e.g., exposing an infant who does not have pets to pictures of cats), this project will demonstrate how experience actually induces change in cognitions. The project will add to our understanding of how experience influences cognitive development both by observing the effect of naturally occurring differences in experience on infants' learning, and by testing the effect of experimentally enhancing infants' experience on their learning. In addition, this project may contribute to our understanding of atypical development and how to intervene with infants at risk for atypical development. That is, although disorders such as Williams Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder develop over time, there is little understanding of what events occur in infancy that influence the outcomes for children with such disorders. Because atypical attention to and visual scanning of images of people and faces are characteristic of these disorders, it is possible that experiences in infancy contribute to the particular developmental trajectory of children with these disorders. A comprehensive understanding of how experience contributes to typical development may be important for both future investigations of such neurodevelopmental disorders and understanding how altering children's experience may help protect them from some of the outcomes associated with such disorders. The results of this work will be broadly disseminated, not only to the scientific community, but also to parents and child care professionals through lectures to parenting groups, participation at the Yolo County Child Development Conference, and television and radio. Project Status


Funder National Science Foundation
Fiscal Year Funding $101,841.00
Current Award Period 2010-2013
Project Number 951580
Principal Investigator Oakes, Lisa
Received ARRA Funding? No
Strategic Plan Question Question 2: How Can I Understand What Is Happening? (Biology)
Subcategory Cognitive Studies
Strategic Plan Objective 2O. Not specific to Question 2 objectives
Federal or Private? Federal
Institution University of California, Davis
State/Country California
Web Link 1 Experience and cognitive development in infancy (External web link)
Web Link 2 Experience and cognitive development in infancy (External web link)
Web Link 3 No URL available.
History/Related Projects Experience and cognitive development in infancy | $100,798.00 | 2011 | 0951580
Experience and cognitive development in infancy | $102,038.00 | 2012 | 0951580