Mentor: Professor Robert Wozniak
Children learn to represent objects in a variety of ways. In the earliest stages of life, infants can only process objects that they are directly acting upon. Rapidly, the infant becomes able to think about these objects when they are not directly being acted upon or even in sight. In the toddler years, they are able to think about and represent these objects that are not immediately present through gestures.
These gestures can take two forms: body part as the object (BPO) gestures and imagined object (IO) gestures. It is important to note, however, that these gestures do not represent static objects, but rather actions one would perform with the object in hand. Obviously, there are many questions that arise around these toddlers’ gestures: Does it matter for comprehension whether the gesture is BPO or IO? Is there an age where one of these gesture types is more common? Would the child recognize the gesture and relate it to a “real world” action?
To test this, I have arranged a two-phase gesture task to administer to this age group. The child would be asked to view video prompts where two empty-handed gestures are being preformed. The child will be asked to indicate which side of the screen has the person performing the target action (e.g. hammering). There will be two conditions for this task; the child will either be assigned to viewing all BPO or IO gestures.
Next, to assure that the child is selecting (or not selecting) the correct gesture because they know (or do not know) the action, the second phase will show a person performing two tasks with an object in hand. On one side of the screen the object will be using the object for its intended purpose (e.g. a hammer for hammering). On the other side the person will be using the object incorrectly (e.g. a hammer for drinking). The child will once again be asked to indicate which side of the screen has the person performing the target action. There will be an equal number of trials in each phase so that all the object actions covered in the empty-handed phase