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Finding the Words

Infant Language Lab: Christie and Leo“Welcome Leo” appears on a hand-lettered sign adorning the sky-blue wall of the waiting area. A brightly colored cartoon mural featuring flowers, butterflies, and small woodland creatures provides a soothing backdrop.

When 14-month-old Leo and his mother arrive, they are greeted by three cheerful psychology students. Leo’s mother sits on a sofa and sets him on the floor between her feet. One of the students delivers some toys for Leo to enjoy while he gets acquainted with the new environment.

Young Leo may not know it yet, but he is about to assist UT’s Infant Language and Perceptual Learning Lab with some very serious science.

Jessica Hay is an associate professor of psychology and director of the lab. She recently received a five-year $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study language acquisition in children from six months to 36 months old.

“I’m looking at how kids are able to track patterns or statistics in the language they hear and then use that information to learn something new,” Hay explained.

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