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Developmental systems theory posits that development cannot be segmented by influences acting in isolation, but should be studied through a scientific lens that highlights the complex interactions between these forces over time (Overton, 2013a). This poses a unique challenge for developmental psychologists studying complex processes like language development. In this paper, we advocate for the combining of highly sophisticated data collection technologies in an effort to move toward a more systemic approach to studying language development. We investigate the efficiency and appropriateness of combining eye-tracking technology and the LENA (Language Environment Analysis) system, an automated language analysis tool, in an effort to explore the relation between language processing in early development, and external dynamic influences like parent and educator language input in the home and school environments. Eye-tracking allows us to study language processing via eye movement analysis; these eye movements have been linked to both conscious and unconscious cognitive processing, and thus provide one means of evaluating cognitive processes underlying language development that does not require the use of subjective parent reports or checklists. The LENA system, on the other hand, provides automated language output that describes a child’s language-rich environment. In combination, these technologies provide critical information not only about a child’s language processing abilities but also about the complexity of the child’s language environment. Thus, when used in conjunction these technologies allow researchers to explore the nature of interacting systems involved in language development.





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Originally published in Frontiers in Psychology .

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