Negativity Bias in Emotion Perception on Toddlers Word’s Learning: Findings from an Eye Tracking Study

MA, LIZHI and Twomey, Katherine Elizabeth and Westermann, Gert (2019) Negativity Bias in Emotion Perception on Toddlers Word’s Learning: Findings from an Eye Tracking Study. In: International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS 2019), 2019-03-07 - 2019-03-09.

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Emotional affect has a profound impact on information processing. Studies show that adults encode negative information more deeply than positive information (Öhman & Mineka, 2001). Similarly, this negativity bias is found in infants, who pay more attention to negative than positive emotional expressions (Hoehl, 2014). Importantly, emotion also affects early language processing: both emotionally positive and negative vocalizations facilitate 10-month-old infants’ word recognition (Singh, Morgan, & White, 2004). However, whether emotion perception influences the long-term learning of word-object associations remains unknown. Here we presented 30 English speaking 30-month-old toddlers with a screen-based word learning task in which they were taught novel words in neutral, positive or negative affect. Eye movements were recorded using an eye-tracker. This two-day study consisted of a referent selection (RS) training phase followed by two retention testing phases (RT1 & RT2), RT1 after a five-minute break and RT2 on the following day to examine longer-term word retention. During RS, participants saw three sets of one novel and two known objects and heard them being labeled by an on-screen experimenter. Novel objects were labeled either in neutral, positive or negative affect (e.g., positive: Can you find the coodle?... Wow! Look! There is the coodle!). At test, children saw the three familiarized novel objects, all labeled in neutral affect. Retention of word-object associations was tested by labeling novel objects neutrally in label trials (e.g., Can you find the coodle?). Retention of affect-object associations was tested by cueing with neutral, positive or negative interjections in no-label trials (e.g., Wow! Look! Wow! Look at that! Wow!). During RS, neutrally labeled targets were fixated longer than affectively labeled targets. In affect trials, children looked longer at the experimenter’s face, with proportion face looking higher in the negative than in the positive trials. At test, on label trials, proportion looking to negative targets was above chance (.33) in both RT phases, suggesting that negative affect facilitated word learning overall. Looking was above chance for neutral targets in RT2, indicating a benefit for the same affect during training and test. Importantly, although children looked less at negative targets during RS, they retained labels at test, suggesting that negative affect strengthens retention irrespective of duration of processing. This result supports studies suggesting that negatively associated information undergoes deeper neural processing (Kark & Kensinger, 2015). Retention of neutral label-object mappings in RT2 additionally supports evidence that sleep helps consolidate newly learned word-object mappings (Williams & Horst, 2014). On no-label trials, children looked at negative targets in both RT phases following a negative cue. However, following neutral cues, negative distractors were fixated longer than neutral and positive objects in RT1, and longer than neutral targets in RT2. Again, negative affect facilitated affect-object retention relative to positive and neutral affect. Overall, these results show a negativity bias in toddlers’ attention allocation and the preferential encoding of word information presented with negative affect.

Item Type:
Contribution to Conference (Poster)
Journal or Publication Title:
International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS 2019)
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Deposited On:
14 Mar 2019 16:30
Last Modified:
15 Feb 2024 01:03