Applying a Behavioral Economic Lens to Understanding What Expectant and New Low-Income Mothers Know and Do about Their Infants’ Early Learning: A Cross Institutional Collaboration in Two Urban Communities

Infants’ language skills are robust predictors of their later school success. The foundation for infants’ language development is established early in life and is built in the context of parent-infant interactions in the home. Many creative interventions aim to boost the quality and quantity of caregiver-infant language interactions. These interventions have also encountered two obstacles: First, interventions are implemented without a complete understanding of parents’ knowledge, perception, attitudes, and related factors that influence engagement beyond the usual candidates including physical, financial, or time impediments. Second, these interventions are typically times during the first year of a child’s life, when beliefs and patterns of parent-infant interactions may have already been established, and the trajectory of infant learning may be more difficult to change. Questions remain about whether intervening with pregnant families may be an effective strategy to reducing the socio-economic language gap. Pregnant mothers and their families might be most receptive, eager, and anxious about the development of their infant, and the ways in which they can prepare to foster positive development of their child. Pregnant families may be at an optimal and receptive point for intervention.

This project combines the infrastructure and expertise of two research institutes—the beELL initiative at New York University and the DUET project at Temple University—and their respective partnerships with city agencies in New York City and Philadelphia. The aims are to (a) deepen our understanding of expectant low-income parents’ knowledge and beliefs of early childhood development; (2) adapt an existing DUET curriculum developed for young children to be used with expecting families; and (3) apply principles of behavioral economics to support the uptake and utilization of the adapted DUET project curriculum for expectant families and families of young children.