Date of Thesis


Thesis Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts

First Advisor

Ruth Tincoff


The current study investigated how infants responded to parents' congruent speech and touch cues during a word game task where parents taught their infants three trisyllable nonwords (do-bi-ta, le-po-ga, ne-po-ku) corresponding to two body parts (elbow and knee) and a handheld object (brush). 4-5-month-old infants (n = 10) and 10-11-month-old infants (n = 9) were studied. Specifically, infants' looks to the named and touched locations on their body, looks to the parent's face, and looks to nonspecific body locations were measured using ELAN software. Two hypotheses were evaluated. The Attention Boost Hypothesis suggested that parents' touches to infants' body parts that were synchronized with their utterances of words would increase infants' attention, which might be advantageous for the process of linking words to referents (body parts). Alternately, the Conflict Hypothesis suggested that such multimodal input (concurrent speech and touch) might be confusing or overwhelming for infants and they might, instead, look variably across the different look locations during the interaction. Results showed that infants looked more to the three locations during multimodal input compared to unimodal input, providing evidence against the Conflict Hypothesis. Infants demonstrated increased attention to the touch location and the parent's face during multimodal input, especially when parents' touch occurred on the body part they simultaneously named. This suggests that infants' attention is enhanced by parents' coordinated input. Infants also looked significantly more to the object (either in the parent's hand or their own hand) when parents taught the object word than to the parent's face or their own body and looked less to those two locations during the object trial compared to body part trials. It was further hypothesized that infants' enhanced attention during the object trial resulted from the high perceptual salience of the object, whereas enhanced attention during the body part trials was explained by an early awareness of multimodal and proprioceptive body experiences that are socially interactive. These results together provide support for the Attention Boost Hypothesis, suggesting that concurrent speech and touch increases infants' attention to communicative interactions and might facilitate word-to-referent mapping for body parts in early lexical development. Infants' early awareness of their bodies combined with frequent caregiver touch that has been shown to capture infants' attention might explain why body part words are among the first lexical items acquired by young infants. Future studies should continue to explore the role of touch as it contributes to the enhancement of attention and communication.