Theses Doctoral

Child-Directed Speech and the Developing Brain: An Investigation of Adult Verbal Warmth and Negative Affect

Kapengut, Dina

This dissertation examines the association between the quality of children’s language experiences – as operationalized by adult verbal warmth – and their cognitive developmental outcomes. A socioeconomically diverse sample of 43 parents and their 5-to-9-year-old children participated in this study. A digital audio recording of the home environment was obtained, and children completed a high-resolution, structural MRI scan as well as direct assessments of their language and reading skills. The audio recordings were transcribed and coded using a coding scheme newly developed by the candidate in consultation with leading experts, in order to identify and quantify psycholinguistic elements of adult-child communication.

Primary hypotheses included that adult verbal warmth is associated with (1) language and reading outcomes (2) the neural regions associated with each. To date, no studies have combined a transcription-based, fine-grained analysis of naturalistic home recordings with neuroimaging data. As such, this study represents a new line of inquiry at the nexus of developmental psychology, neuroscience, and education.

The findings shed light on the impact of psychosocial language experiences on child development and on which forms of adult-child communication are most conducive to learning. Such information can inform programs that aim to teach parents ways to nurture their children’s development through high-quality child-directed speech. Social, educational, and clinical implications for mitigating risk factors and bolstering protective factors in order to, ultimately, foster healthy development for all children, are discussed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Noble, Kimberly G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 15, 2020