James Madison University

Infant and Toddler Language Laboratory

Read the Information for Families Considering Participation

Focus of Lab

This laboratory investigates the process of language development in the first year of life with special attention to the interaction between perception and production. Our work concentrates on how the infant's own individual experience affects language learning. In the same way that the onset of reaching makes the idea of distance more real to the infant, the onset of babbling makes adult speech more accessible. For example, as the infant begins to concentrate on specific sounds in babble, those sounds become more noticeable to the infant in the adult speech stream.

Recent work has concentrated on using the expertise acquired from working with families over the past twenty years to develop methods to facilitate language development in populations that have historically underachieved in language. For example, we are working with home health visitors and pediatricians to document early language development in low socioeconomic families and using these efforts to develop language interventions for at risk infants.

The laboratory has an impressive array of tools available to study language including eye tracking, pupilometry, fNIRS, Event Related Potentials, and preferential looking paradigms.

Directions to the Lab


  • Dr. Rory A. DePaolis, Director
  • Miranda Steinbeck, Undergraduate Honors Student
  • Brianna Cassada and Amy Vinyard, Graduate Assistants
  • Jamie Migliaccio, Lauren Como, Laura Sowder: Undergraduate Volunteers

Curent Projects

  • The lab is investigating the differences in the way that American and British mothers interact with their infants. The British portion of the study is in collaboration with the University of York in England.
  • As a follow up to the study above, we are collecting similar data from lower socioeconomic (SES) families in the Shenandoah Valley. We are using this information to develop interventions that will aid low SES families in creating an environment that facilitates language development. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Charlette McQuilkin from the Rockingham County School Board, Dr. Brenda Seal from Gallaudet University, and Sentara RMH.
  • An ongoing study is examining the role of visual cues in early language development, including the differences in word learning related to the use of either Baby Sign or American Sign Language. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Brenda Seal at Gallaudet University.
  • The lab is also investigating the use of technology to aid in the development of early language. In collaboration with the researchers from the Departments of Language and Linguistics and Electronics at the University of York in England, we have developed an app that encourages babbling in prelinguistic infants. We are currently piloting the app for possible use with at risk populations (i.e. those with a hearing impairment or children with autism).
  • The lab has just started to investigate pupilometry as a possible non-behavioral measure of early word learning.