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The Dynamics of Visual Attention and Word Learning

Learning a word is much more complex than it might at first appear. It requires many different behaviours (looking, listening, pointing), and is supported by multiple perceptual and cognitive processes (attention, memory, categorization). And word learning is extended in time; a child can respond to their name from 4 months of age, but will not usually say their first word until 12 months, and will be adding words to their vocabulary for many years to come.  Explanations of early word learning must bring together processes of visual attention, visual looking and learning, processes for tracking of what things are where in the world and linking the right perceptual features together, and processes for the formation and updating of mappings between words and referents. Critically, such explanations must be dynamic – able to capture how these processes work together as children behave in the moment and how they change over learning and development. 

The goal of this project is to test the first formal theory of early word learning that integrates understanding of how we perceive objects and things in the world, and word learning both in the minutes of an individual naming instance and the days, weeks and years of learning the many names for things in a young child’s vocabulary. Multiple individual experiments provide information on how children’s attention to novel things and growing word knowledge interact and change from 12-months to 3-years and beyond. We use what we learn from these studies to build and test a computer model of the process. In the future we hope this model will help us to understand what goes wrong when children are slow to learn words and language, and what we can do to help.

Probing the Neural Basis of Visual Working Memory in Early Development 

During the first year of life, brain size doubles as functional brain networks are formed, creating new behavioural, cognitive, and social skills. Significant adversity including poverty can have a major impact on these emerging brain networks, yielding deficits that extend into adulthood.

The goal of this project is to assess the impact of significant adversity on the emergence of a key functional brain network in early development—the network that underlies visual working memory (VWM)—and to compare brain development between typically developing children in the UK and children experiencing adversity in rural India. The project involves a host of innovative technologies including brain imaging. Our hope is that the information obtained from this study will lead to the design of assessment tools that could ultimately help children who are considered to be at risk for cognitive delays.


2020 International Congress of Infant Studies

Some of our researchers attended and presented at this year's congress and you can watch their presentations here.

Milena Bakapoulou presents 'Visual Exploration in Novel Noun Generalisation Task' - A window on the relationship between vocabulary and shape bias.



Laia Fibla presents 'Early Language Processing and Language Exposure Across Cultures: UK and India' 




Laia Fibla presents 'The LENA System Applied to the Awadhi Dialect: Measuring Language Exposure in Rural India' 




Prerna Aneja presents 'Leveraging technological advances to bridge methodological limitations in low resource setting'