Our Research

We conduct studies with infants and preschool age children in order to better understand how children learn new words and develop concepts about the world around them. Our studies are non-evaluative and are formatted like games so that children have fun. Parents are with their children at all times and are provided with ample opportunity to ask questions.

The results of our investigations are mailed to interested parents upon completion of the project.

COVID-19 Research Studies Update

In line with current physical distancing requirements, our studies are being conducted remotely through platforms like Zoom! If you have any questions regarding the studies, please email us at child@ucalgary.ca.

Current Projects

Exploring Children’s use of Emotional Prosody in Referential Communication

Imagine hearing a friend exclaim: “Get out!” Here, your friend’s intended meaning (i.e., whether she wants you to leave immediately or wants you to know she is experiencing utter disbelief) is markedly different if she uses an angry-sounding voice versus an excited-sounding one. As this example illustrates, in order to gauge communicative intent, listeners often must draw upon cues beyond the words themselves. One means by which listeners may infer communicate intent is to attend to emotional prosody, otherwise known as vocal affect or tone of voice.

Previous research has shown that children as young as 4-years-old have the ability to use a speaker’s vocal affect (e.g., happy-sounding voice vs. sad-sounding voice) to guide language processing. For example, imagine a situation where there are two beach balls: one that is shiny and new and another that is old and deflated. When a speaker says, “Look! Look at the ball!” children will use the speaker’s tone of voice in order to determine which ball they are talking about. In the present study, we are using eye-tracking methodology to investigate the conditions under which young children use vocal affect as a cue to anticipate reference. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether this ability is the result of learned associations between vocal emotionality and certain objects/situations, or whether it is the result of socially enriched reasoning about a speaker. 

kids playing

We are currently looking for child scientists between 4 and 4.5 years of age to participate in this study.

boys reading

We are currently looking for child scientists of 5 years of age to participate in this study.

Children’s Inferences About Accented Speakers

In this study, children will be presented with pictures of two women, and properties each woman will introduced (e.g., their accents, their clothing, the food they eat, etc.). Next, children will be presented with a series of trials where they will see two objects (e.g., two different houses) on the screen and hear one of the speakers’ voices. On each of these trials, children will be asked to match one of the speaker’s voice to one of the objects. Finally, children will be asked to indicate which speaker they prefer. Your child’s selection on all trials will be recorded automatically.

Research Collaborators

Dr. Craig Chambers, University of Toronto 

Dr. Suzanne Curtin, Brock University

Dr. Patricia Ganea, University of Toronto, OISE

Dr. Susan Gelman, University of Michigan

Dr. Annette Henderson, University of Auckland

Dr. Laura Namy, Emory University

Dr. Elizabeth Nilsen, University of Waterloo

Research in the Language and Cognitive Development Lab is supported by the following agencies:


Language and Cognitive Development Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Calgary | AD 221
P: (403) 220-4955 | E: babytalk@ucalgary.ca | 2500 University Drive N.W., Calgary AB, T2N 1N4