Children detect the a speaker's politeness both through intonation and facial expression

February 11, 2020

Gesture and prosody (stress, rhythm and intonation) play an important role in the development of children's communication skills. Studies have traditionally focused rather on the role played by these elements in the early acquisition of lexical and morphosyntactic elements and less at older ages, when children use prosody and gesture to express pragmatic meanings such as politeness.

"Despite evidence that children are sensitive to facial gestures and prosody for detecting emotions, until now there was conflicting evidence as to whether preschool children use these cues to deduce speakers' politeness", comments Pilar Prieto, an ICREA research professor at the Department of Translation and Language Sciences (DTCL) at UPF and principal investigator of a research area that has produced a study published in the advanced online edition of Journal of Politeness Research Language, Behaviour, Culture. A new study of which Iris Hübscher (University of Zurich, Switzerland and UPF) is first author and principal investigator, together withLaura Wagner, co-author, and researcher at Ohio University (USA).

In this study, the authors set out to investigate whether preschool children inferred a speaker's affective stance and degree of politeness taking into account the role of prosodic cues and facial expressions. This is the first study to show that 3-year-olds are sensitive to the meaning of politeness that is conveyed through intonation and facial cues.

For the study, they designed an experiment in which children listened to a request addressed to them of the type Can you hand me [this toy]? (either followed or not by please) delivered politely and impolitely. Thirty-six English-speaking US children aged three years participated in this experiment to find out if children deduced a speaker's politeness through intonation and/or facial gestures and in different formats, both audio mode and visually and in both modes simultaneously.

The results of the study show that children of aged three can be recognize politeness through the such prosodic cues as intonation, visual cues such as facial expressions, and the two together, and most importantly, unlike previous studies, the study shows that both intonation and facial expression are equally strong signals to make children understand the polite stance of a speaker.

This has implications for parents, carers and preschool teachers because it suggests gaining awareness of children's social and pragmatic behaviour, which often only focuses on verbal content", highlights Hübscher, the principal investigator of the study. Furthermore, Pilar Prieto also says that the study highlights the importance of sensitizing children to the great possible variety of expressions of politeness and not only to verbal contents such as the use of 'please'.

The authors point out that in the future it would be interesting to compare English-speaking American children with children who speak other languages, to see if these results are comparable or if there are intercultural differences in children's development in the understanding of politeness, as well as studying the development of politeness in broader age brackets.

Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Barcelona

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to