Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name




Author's Keywords

causality; parental interaction


It was previously thought that infants could not perceive causal events as causal (e.g., one ball rolls into another making the 2nd ball move) until the age of 6 months (Cohen & Amsel, 1998). However, more recent research has shown that infants are able to understand the concept of causality earlier than 6 months of age if given the opportunity to have “real-life” exposure to physical causality with "sticky mittens" (Rakison &Krogh, 2012). "Sticky mittens” play sessions allow infants to manipulate Velcro balls while wearing mittens with Velcro sewn on the palms. This allows young infants, who are otherwise unable to grasp and manipulate objects, to do so. Data obtained from a recent study of infant causal perception in our lab indicated that “sticky mittens” play experience facilitated young infants' causal perception but only when parental interaction was limited; when parental interaction was encouraged, infants’ learning about causal perception was not facilitated (Holt, 2016). The current thesis seeks to test the hypothesis that parental interaction caused infants to be distracted during the learning task. Videos from previously recorded “sticky mittens” play sessions were coded frame by frame to determine the percentage of time infants spent “on-task” (i.e., looking at the balls or the mittens), the percentage of time infants spent “off-task” (i.e., looking anywhere other than the balls or the mittens), and the percentage of time parents spent moving in the infants’ field of vision, which was taken as a measure of parental interference. These data were compared across Talking and No Talking conditions. No statistically significant differences were found in the time infants spent “on-task” or “off-task.” However, it was found that parents in the Talking condition interfered significantly more often with their infants compared to parents in the No Talking condition. Together, the results show that parental interaction can negatively affect infant learning.

Lay Summary

This thesis project investigated the role of parental interaction in causal understanding of 4-month-old infants. Specifically, this thesis sought to understand why some types of parental interaction are not as beneficial as other types.