Deaf Infants’ Gaze Behavior More Advanced Than That of Hearing Infants

AUSTIN, Texas – Deaf infants who have been exposed to American Sign Language are better at following an adult’s gaze than their hearing peers, supporting the idea that social-cognitive development is sensitive to different kinds of life experiences.

Gaze-following behavior, or looking where another person is looking, is an important milestone in child development that plays a key role in communication and social-cognitive processes. Prior research has established that an infant’s ability to gaze follow emerges on a clear developmental timetable, but the first experimental study of deaf infants of deaf parents suggests these important markers are more malleable than previously thought.

“By only studying the developmental patterns of hearing infants until now, we may have overlooked the human potential for a broader range of visual and cognitive capacities in early childhood,” said the study’s co-author, Jenny Singleton, a linguistics professor at The University of Texas at Austin.

In a paper recently published in Developmental Science, Singleton, along with Rechele Brooks and Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, examined the gaze behavior of deaf infants of deaf parents, comparing it with hearing infants of hearing parents, to test how infants adapt to communication modes to which they are exposed.

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