Selective attention to the mouth of talking faces in monolinguals and bilinguals aged 5 months to 5 years

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Description: A talking face provides a wealth of redundant cues on the mouth that might support language learning, as well as highly salient social cues in the eyes. What drives young listeners to allocate their visual attention to the mouth versus eyes of a talking face? The current study reports data from 292 children as they viewed faces speaking English, French, and Russian. We investigated the impact of children's age (5 months to 5 years) and language background (monolingual English, monolingual French, bilingual English-French), and the speaker's language (dominant, non-dominant, or non-native) relative to children's native language(s). Data from 129 bilingual adults was also obtained for comparison. Five-month-olds showed balanced attention to the eyes and mouth, but children up to 5 years tended to be most interested in the mouth. This contrasted with adults, who were most interested in the eyes. We found little evidence for different patterns of attention for monolinguals versus bilinguals, or to a native versus a non-native speaker. Controlling for age, monolinguals with larger productive vocabularies looked more at the mouth, while oppositely bilinguals with larger comprehension vocabularies looked marginally less at the mouth, although both effects were small. Children showed a great deal of individual but stable variability in their face scanning patterns across different speakers. Our results shows that the way that children allocate their attention to talking faces continues to change from infancy through the preschool years and beyond. Future studies will need to go beyond looking at bilingualism, speaker language, and vocabulary size to understand what drives children's in-the-moment attention to talking faces.

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