How do children match the speech they hear to the faces they see?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Research with infants and adults shows that paying attention to the mouth is important for understanding speech in noisy environments or when multiple talkers are present. We are studying how children attend to a speaker’s face when trying to figure out who is talking.

    Children (3 – 7 years old) will play a matching game on a laptop while their attention to the screen is monitored using a small eye-tracking camera. Children will hear short audio clips of a person talking, and will be asked to match each audio clip to one of two simultaneous videos of talking faces. The game will include faces from different races because we are interested in how experience with different groups of people impacts children’s attention to talking faces. Caregivers will also be asked about their child’s experience with different race groups.

    We expect children to successfully choose the video that corresponds to the audio they heard. We also predict that children will pay more attention to the mouth of each speaker, relative to other parts of the matching face. We anticipate that children will be faster at matching spoken language to the correct face for race groups with which they are more familiar. This work is important for outlining strategies children use to connect auditory and visual information, which can guide learning opportunities when engaging in social situations with different people.

    This research is being conducted in Living Laboratory at the Museum of Science by the Communication Development Laboratory (located in the Behrakis Blg., Room 525) at Northeastern University. For more information, you may contact David J. Lewkowicz, Ph.D., (, Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

        » Communication Development Lab at Northeastern University

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Animal Conversations

    In the Discovery Center, choose an animal puppet with your child. Acting as the puppet (by moving its mouth), have your animal “say” a few sentences or phrases. Observe where your child’s gaze rests as you pretend to be the puppet. Does your child look at the puppet while it is “talking”, or does your child look at you? Now, help your child to find another animal puppet, and encourage a conversation between the two animals. Does your child move their puppet’s mouth when it is “talking”? Does your child address you or your puppet when their puppet is “talking”?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Speaking Gibberish

    As children are learning language they focus on the lips of the person who is speaking. Once they begin to master a language, they shift their gaze to the person’s eyes in order to better understand the social context of the conversation. When you are speaking with your child, notice where your child’s eyes are focused. If your child’s gaze is focused on your eyes, try switching up your speech (you might try “pig latin”, or just plain old gibberish) and observe whether your child’s gaze changes. Do your child’s eyes remain focused on your eyes, or do they glance down at your mouth?

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