Project Report

Past research using laboratory procedures and naturalistic observations has shed light on different aspects of early learning. On the one hand, laboratory procedures such as repeated staged demonstrations have shown that infants can learn through visual observation, and the variations of these procedures have illuminated the process through which infants acquire knowledge. However, a series of neatly controlled demonstrations are uncharacteristic of what infants encounter in their daily lives. The apparent discrepancy between the laboratory and everyday experiences thus poses a serious limitation to how the laboratory findings can be applied to the real world setting. On the other hand, observations of naturalistic parent-infant interactions have highlighted the variability of everyday learning, thus documenting the diversity in teaching and learning. However, they do not help pinpoint what makes parental guidance beneficial for children's learning. Thus, the laboratory-training research underscores the specific components in infants' experience that drive learning but lacks ecological validity, whereas the naturalistic-observation research reveals variations in learning experiences but lacks predictive power on how learning occurs. My project aims to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the naturalistic paradigms in infancy research. With the support of the 2011 East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes in Taiwan program (EAPSI-TW), I traveled to Taiwan this summer and began collaboration with Dr. K. Lay's Socioemotional Development Lab at the National Taiwan University. Specifically, the project analyzes the different aspects of parental guidance that facilitate infant learning within a naturalistic setting; in addition, it examines how parents' attitudes shape infants' learning experiences. In this project, parents are asked to teach their infants in a manner that feels comfortable to them, and the infants' experience during the teaching session is analyzed and related to their learning outcome. After the teaching session, parents are interviewed on their beliefs regarding infant learning, and their responses are used to examine the impact of parental teaching beliefs on parent-infant interaction. To increase naturalism, I visited the families at the infants' homes or another familiar location of the parents' choice, and the entire procedure was recorded for further quantitative and qualitative analyses. By including participants from Taiwan and the U.S., the results of this project will provide further insight into the diversity of teaching and learning. Moreover, the results will have implications for the popular belief and prior findings that Asian parents tend to be more directive and involved than U.S. parents with respect to their children's education. In addition to its contribution to academic research, my project reached out to a number of different communities. For the participating parents, the impact was directly observed. Many of the parents indicated that my research topic was of deep interest to them, but they had little or no access to such information prior to their participation. Hence, the project offered the parents not only first-hand experience with scientific research but also opportunities to learn about the research topics that were interesting and relevant to them. Indeed, the debriefing for this project often took the form of a lively discussion that lasted from 15 to 60 minutes because the parents were so interested in hearing about recent infancy research and cross-cultural findings. For educators, a major challenge today is to develop multicultural competency and implement culturally sensitive practices in the curriculum. By surveying parental beliefs and behavior in different cultural communities, my study could help explicate multiple beliefs and pathways of learning, which would be informative for curriculum improvement and for promoting the continuity between formal and informal learning experiences. Involvement in the EAPSI-TW has drastically transformed my research profile. I gained extensive international research experience by conducting all phases of research in Taiwan and collaborating with Taiwanese researchers. Through this experience, I learned about the Taiwanese cultural and research environment, observed first-hand the earliest forms of learning in different homes, and interacted with the parents and infants from different backgrounds. The experience and perspectives I have gained through this experience has greatly strengthened my prospect for promising international research endeavors in the future.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Office of International and Integrative Activities (IIA)
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Program Officer
Carter Kimsey
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Duh Shinchieh
Santa Cruz
United States
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