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Title: Preschoolers’ Emotional and Cognitive Perspective-taking During Online Language Processing
Author: Khu, Melanie
Advisor: Graham, Susan
Keywords: Psychology;Psychology--Cognitive;Psychology--Developmental
Abstract: Successful communication often depends on the ability to take the perspective of one’s conversational partner. In this dissertation, I investigated 4-year-olds’ perspective-taking during online spoken language processing. Using two novel communication tasks, I addressed the question of when, during real-time processing, preschoolers integrate perspective information with linguistic input – a question central to an on-going theoretical debate within the psycholinguistic literature. Further, I examined how individual differences in communicative perspective-taking relate to individual differences in mental and emotional representational skills, executive function, and receptive vocabulary. In Chapter 2, I examined preschoolers’ use of two communicative partners’ perspectives to guide their online language processing. Children participated in a visual perspective-taking task during which two speakers alternated providing the child referential instructions. Eye-tracking results demonstrated that preschoolers reliably took the active speaker’s perspective into account, using this information within the earliest moments of language processing. Preschoolers’ explicit referential decisions (i.e., pointing) also demonstrated consistent sensitivity to the active speaker’s perspective. Children with better mental representational skills demonstrated less egocentricity in their online processing. In Chapter 3, I investigated preschoolers’ communicative perspective-taking using an affectively-evocative, emotional perspective-taking task. Eye gaze measures indicated that children used the speaker’s vocal affect to make inferences about her emotional state and correspondingly, her communicative intent. However, children’s online sensitivity to the speaker’s emotional perspective was only weakly reflected in their overt responses, suggesting their ability to integrate emotional perspective cues with linguistic information is at an emergent state. Children’s emotional perspective-taking during online processing was related to their emotional, but not mental, representational skills, as well as the size of their receptive vocabulary. Together, these findings demonstrate that 4-year-olds use information about speakers’ perspectives to guide their real-time language comprehension in a range of communicative contexts. The question of when preschoolers integrated perspective information with linguistic input depended on the nature of the perspective representations involved. Examination of individual differences revealed an important role for children’s representational skills in supporting perspective-taking during communication. This dissertation highlights the need for theoretical accounts of language processing to incorporate findings from a wider range of communicative contexts.
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