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Volunteers needed for our research

If you have a child between about 8 months and 5 years old, we'd like to invite you to participate in our studies of language development. As you've probably noticed, young children understand a lot more about their native language than they can say. We explore this early knowledge, and how children learn it. We study spoken word recognition, word learning, and sentence comprehension.

What is a typical study like?

Experimental SetupOur procedures are very simple, entirely safe, and fun: most children really enjoy them! Studies generally involve one visit to our lab in the Psychology Building, and take about half an hour. In most studies, your child will sit on your lap or be close to you at all times. We conduct two main kinds of studies, looking-time, and listening-time studies:

  • In looking-time studies, your child watches a series of events on a small stage or a TV display. The events are accompanied by sentences. When given a choice, children (and adults!) tend to look at objects and events that match the language they hear. Therefore we can use their looking patterns to study how they understand the sentences we present. We videotape children during the task, and later code where they looked during key periods in the task to figure out how they understood each sentence.
  • In listening-time studies, each infant sits on a parent's lap in a booth with a loud-speaker and a light positioned on each side of the booth. Infants naturally tend to turn their heads toward sounds they find interesting. This task capitalizes on this natural tendency by putting infants in control of what they hear. In each trial, one of the side lights starts blinking; sounds start to play as soon as the baby turns toward the blinking light. The sounds stop when the baby turns away for longer than 2 seconds. We measure how long infants listen to various sound samples to figure out what they know about the sound sequences of their native language.
  • We sometimes use a variety of other tasks as well. For example, preschoolers might be invited to play a game in which they repeat sentences, search for toys, or describe pictures as part of a card game. We examine children's responses to sentences they hear (either actions or verbal responses) to investigate how children learn to understand and to speak their native language.

What happens to the data?

The results from our studies are typically first presented at professional scientific conferences (with no information identifying individual children) and then reported in a scientific journal. We are also always glad to provide a summary of the results for participating families!

How can I get involved?

Aria giggleWe are always in need of more participants to help us explore children's language development. If you would like to participate with your child in one of our studies, or have questions, please contact us at (217) 244-6098 or by e-mail at lalab@illinois.edu. We would be very happy to hear from you!

An appointment can be made to suit your schedule (mornings, afternoons, or evenings). Free parking, toys to play with and baby-sitting for siblings are all provided at the lab. Every child who participates can choose a book to take home – our way of saying thanks.

How do I get to the lab? Where do I park?

To find directions to the lab and our parking spaces, please view our contact page.