Temperament Moderates Responsiveness to Joint Attentional Bids at 11 and 14 Months

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An increasing number of researchers have begun to identify relationships between dimensions of infants’ and toddlers’ temperament and their language development. Proclivities to engage in joint attention have also been implicated in children’s language development. The purpose of the present investigation was to explore whether aspects of children’s temperament typically associated with linguistic performance could be observed to moderate the joint attentional responsiveness of 11- and 14-month-olds in a controlled laboratory setting. Forty-seven infants (22 females, 25 males) were drawn from a larger study investigating infants’ gaze-following abilities, and included 25 11-month-olds and 22 14-month-olds. In a laboratory setting, two identical objects were placed on opposite sides of the room to the right and left of the infant, respectively. Colorful shower curtains served as background contexts for the objects, and differed in pattern. Experimenters looked at either the right or left object, and infants were scored as to whether they followed the gaze of the experimenter during 1) an initial training phase of 8 trials, and 2) a subsequent testing phase of 8 more trials. Background contexts were switched for half the children during test trials. Temperament played a considerable role in moderating children’s gaze-following at both ages, contributing to 15 significant interactions with factors affecting gaze-following. At 11 months, gaze-following was primarily associated with temperament dimensions reflecting surgency and executive control. For example, perceptual sensitivity, a subcomponent of surgency, entered into a significant 3-way interaction [F(1, 21) = 8.00, p = .010] with training phase (initial versus test) and contextual condition (familiar versus novel). Evaluation of the means vis-à-vis post hoc comparisons indicated that children high in perceptual sensitivity decreased their gaze-following over time in both contexts, whereas children low in perceptual sensitivity exhibited a decrease in gaze-following in only the familiar context. At 14 months, in contrast, negative affectivity was primarily involved. Here, low negative affect children exhibited less gaze-following than high negative affect children during the novel test condition, but the reverse obtained in the familiar test condition [F(1, 18) = 4.56, p = .041]. Our results provide additional evidence of the utility of taking children’s temperament into account when exploring their language development. These findings fit within a model of language development in which children’s temperament influences their language development, at least in part, by virtue of its impact on children’s responsiveness to joint attentional bids.


Vancouver, BC

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