Consortium on Individual Development


28 June 2019
10:30 - 11:30
Academiegebouw, Universiteit Utrecht

PhD defence Rianne van Rooijen

Social information processing in infancy and adolescence: Examining the role of different interaction partners

Friday 28 June 2019 Rianne van Rooijen (UU, WP1) defends her PhD dissertation on ‘Social information processing in infancy and adolescence: Examining the role of different interaction partners’.

Children learn vital communication skills from interacting with other people. Rianne investigated the possible role of different interaction partners in two developmental samples – toddlers and adolescents.

In toddlers, she focused on the role of parents in learning novel words. In the typical population maternal speech boosted novel word learning. Since toddlers at increased risk for autism tend to have smaller vocabularies, she examined whether they can learn novel words from their parents. Although these high-risk infants lagged behind in their current vocabulary size, there was no group difference in their ability to learn novel words from their parents. This suggests that smaller vocabularies observed in children with autism are unlikely to originate in poor word-object mapping, but rather result from deficiencies in for example consolidation of novel words or on higher level social demands of interactive communication. 

In adolescents, because of a re-orientation from parents to peers, there is a temporary dip in recognizing adult faces compared to child faces. When Rianne examined other higher social processes (i.e., gaze following, emotion recognition and empathy), she did not find evidence for a dip in performance around the onset of puberty. Upon examining gaze following patterns for both adult and child stimuli, she observed that the response to gaze cues was not modulated by the age of the interaction partner.

Based on her PhD research, Rianne concludes that the type of interaction partner can shape early social development. Clearly familiarity with the interaction partner plays an important role in infants’ language processing. Age of the interaction partner (adult versus peers) does not modulate higher social processing in adolescence. It remains an open question how familiarity affects social processing in adolescence, which is a relevant topic for future research.

Update 9 July 2019: Rianne’s PhD research was described in the Volkskrant.

List of CID PhD dissertations:

PhD dissertations