Child-directed interactions, one-on-one interactions that directly engage a child, have long been considered optimal for children’s early social learning, especially for early language development. There have been many naturalistic studies that show how children’s everyday directed input (speaking directly to a child) influences their later vocabulary development and language outcomes. Given these positive language outcomes, child-directed interactions are thought to be universal and necessary for early language learning; however, previous studies have only considered cultures where we know children receive a lot of directed input and there are many cultures around the world where children are rarely directly addressed by caretakers. For instance, children growing up on the Yucatec Mayan peninsula do not receive much directed input and spend most of their time in observational interactions. Therefore, it is interesting to consider: are child-directed interactions universally important for early language learning, or does a child’s socio-cultural context influence the value they place on these interactions?

In this study by the Infant Learning and Development Lab, supervised by Dr. Amanda Woodward, 18-month-old US and Mayan infants were taught two novel words across two lab visits; they were taught one word in a child-directed interaction and one word in an overheard interaction. Infants were tested immediately after training and at a one-week follow-up. Importantly, infants did not receive additional training at the one-week follow-up.


Results show that for US children, they can learn words equally well in the child-directed and observed interactions when they are tested immediately after training; however, at the one-week follow-up US infants only remembered words they were taught in the child-directed interaction. Interestingly, Mayan infants show an opposite pattern. Immediately after training, Mayan infants do not show learning for either the child-directed or ob- served word; however, at the one-week follow-up Mayan infants show learning for the child-directed and observed words. While US children seem to prize child-directed interactions (they only remembered the child-directed word after a delay), Mayan infants did not value child-directed input above and beyond the observed input. These results suggest that the value child-directed interactions play in early social learning is influenced by infants’ so- ciocultural context.

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