Childhood Programs & Development
Linking Language and Cognition
How do infants begin to understand language? IPR developmental psychologist Waxman and IPR graduate research assistant Danielle Perszyk outline the evidence about the early links between language and cognition in the Annual Review of Psychology. They explain that even before infants can recognize the sound of their own names, they have begun to link language and cognition. Within the first several months of life, infants prefer the sound of human language over almost any other sound. Waxman discovers that listening to language also promotes fundamental cognitive capacities, such as the ability to form object categories and learn abstract rules. Waxman explains that this is key: If listening to human speech boosts infant cognition and language development, then infants who hear little of it are at a disadvantage not only in language skills, but in fundamental cognitive capabilities. Waxman is the Louis W. Menk Chair in Psychology.
Successful Two-Generation Human Capital Program
Assisting low-income parents while their children are in preschool is an avenue to improving the future of both generations. One example of these two-generation human capital programs, CareerAdvance® in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, uses Head Start as a platform for recruiting parents into healthcare job training, coaching, peer support, tuition-free. IPR developmental psychologists Lindsay Chase-Lansdale and Terri Sabol, IPR research associate professor Teresa Eckrich Sommer, and their colleagues investigated the impact of CareerAdvance® on parents’ employment, income, and psychological well-being. The researchers compared the program’s enrolled parents to very similar parents whose children attended Head Start but who did not participate in the workforce training program. The IPR scientists discovered that after one year, CareerAdvance® parents had higher rates of healthcare certification and employment. These parents also benefited psychologically: They were more optimistic, better at achieving their goals, and had a stronger career identity. Despite the difficulty of juggling family, school, and jobs, the parents did not report more stress or financial difficulties. The authors note that in contrast to other, less successful, two-generation programs, CareerAdvance® is small-scale, the group of parents is older, and the focus is on promoting parents’ human capital in the context of the entire family. Chase-Lansdale is the Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and Vice Provost for Academics.
Prenatal WIC Improves Children’s Outcomes
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) became a permanent federal program in 1975, and eight million people received WIC in 2015. A large body of research has demonstrated the program’s positive effects on birth outcomes such as weight and size for gestational age. Additional research has shown a connection between health at birth and the child’s future outcomes. Does WIC affect later outcomes for babies whose mothers participated in WIC when pregnant? Economist and IPR associate Anna Chorniy, with Janet Currie of Princeton University and Lyudmyla Sonchak of Susquehanna University, explore this question in the American Journal of Health Economics. Using South Carolina birth, Medicaid, and school records for all children born between 2004 and 2009, they confirm the prenatal health benefits to babies born to mothers on WIC after comparing them to their siblings who were not. Not only were these babies larger at birth, but they had fewer chronic medical conditions even at 6–11 years of age. They were 5% less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, 5.1% less likely to be diagnosed with common childhood mental health conditions, and nearly 8% less likely to repeat a grade than their siblings who did not experience prenatal WIC. The study demonstrates that a “WIC start” results in long-lasting improvements in children’s lives.