Rajalakshmi Madhavan, Ben Malem, Lena Ackermann, Roger Mundry and Nivedita Mani

An examination of measures of young children’s interest in natural object categories


Developmental research utilizes various different methodologies and measures to study the cognitive development of young children; however, the reliability and validity of such measures have been a critical issue in all areas of research practices. To address this problem, particularly in the area of research on infants’ interests, we examined the convergent validity of previously reported measures of children’s interests in natural object categories, as indexed by (1) parents’ estimation of their child’s interest in the categories, (2) extrinsic (overt choices in a task), (3) intrinsic (looking time toward objects), and (4) physiological (pupil dilation) responses to objects of different categories. Additionally, we also examined the discriminant validity of all the aforementioned measures against the well-established and validated measure of parents’ estimations of children’s vocabulary knowledge. Children completed two tasks: (a) an eye-tracking task, where they were presented with images from a range of defined categories, which collected indices of looking time and pupillary activity; (b) a sticker-choice task, where they were asked to choose between two sticker-images from two different categories belonging to the range of categories assessed in the previous task. Parents completed two questionnaires to estimate (i) their child’s interests and (ii) vocabulary knowledge in the categories presented. We first analyzed the discriminant validity between the two parent measures, and found a significant positive association between them. Our successive analyses showed no strong or significant associations between any of our measures, apart from a significant positive association between children’s looking time and parents’ estimations of children’s vocabulary knowledge. From our findings, we conclude that measures of infants’ interests thus far may not have sufficient reliability to adequately capture any potential relationship between these measures, or index different components of interest in young children. We suggest next steps for further validation studies in infant research.