6th March 2012

 Nuffield Grant awarded to Danielle Matthews

Dr Danielle Mathews, Dr Jane Herbert and Michelle McGillion (TUOS) have been awarded a £194k grant from the Nuffield Foundation over 3 years for a project entitled "Does promoting parents' contingent talk with their infants benefit language development?"

The award involves colloboration with Dr Julian Pine (Liverpool) and will employ an RA for the first two years and Michelle McGillion (current PhD student) as a postdoc for the final 2 years. This award will also be used to purchase state-of-the-art voice recorders and automatic speech analysis software which will be used to record infants for 2 full days at 11, 12 and 24 months in order to automatically analyse what they hear during this time. A lay abstract is below.

Lay Summary:

Does promoting parents' contingent talk with their infants benefit language development?

Children from disadvantaged families tend to have limited language skills compared to their advantaged peers when they start school. This restricts their access to education and can affect their social wellbeing.

While many factors contribute to language ability, one type of parental communication, contingent talk, has emerged as especially important. Contingent talk refers to a style of communication whereby the parent talks about what is in the infant’s current focus of attention. Infants whose parents frequently engage in contingent talk go on to have substantially larger vocabularies as toddlers.

Recent studies in the USA have found that disadvantaged mothers engage in less contingent talk with their infants even though they spend more time in other types of positive interaction. Such studies suggest that increasing parental contingent talk would promote language development and would do so specifically for those at risk due to social disadvantage.

However, before recommending an intervention, it is necessary to establish whether contingent talk is a correlate or a cause of better language outcomes and whether it is possible to intervene in such a way as to promote language growth. The aim of this research is to address these questions by conducting a properly controlled intervention study in which we not only compare the effects of an intervention to promote contingent talk against a control, but also measure parent contingent talk and child communication both before and after the intervention such that we can study how the intervention works and whether it works differently for advantaged compared to disadvantaged families.