Robert C. Titzer, Ph.D.
Dr. Robert Titzer has always been interested how people learn1. His research at The Pennsylvania State University focused on how adults learn2,3. Once he and his wife knew they were expecting a baby, he became interested in infant learning. Titzer conducted theoretical research about how babies learn in the infant motor development and infant cognitive development laboratories at Indiana University4,5,6. He also collected data in the infant social and emotional development lab4,7 in IU’s world-class infant research program.
His mentor was the President of the International Society on Infant Studies. He worked with three of the top infant researchers in the world collecting data on many studies across the spectrum of infant development at Indiana University. Most of these studies were theoretical4,5,6,7, but some had real-life applications8. One of the reasons that he taught his first baby to read was to see if it was theoretically possible for babies to learn written language just as naturally and easily as spoken, sign, or second languages.
His daughter was reading more naturally – with fluidity and intonation – and much faster by age 4 than the average adult9. He knew that it was possible for babies to learn written language at a higher level than what many people believed babies could achieve in the first few years of life. Reading has long been considered a difficult skill that could not be taught until the child’s brain was more mature. However, the more mature brain may have a harder time changing or modifying compared to an infant’s brain that is developing at a faster rate.
He collected data with hundreds of infants on a wide variety of studies. Six of the experiments were theoretical studies using variations of Piaget’s A Not-B Task5. Most researchers believed the task was measuring object permanence, or the infant’s ability to understand that objects continue to exist even when the object is not in the baby’s visual presence. Instead, in Titzer and colleagues’ Psychological Review5 manuscript, they offered a new theoretical approach that reinterpreted the meaning of a classic developmental task.
Titzer conducted three additional theoretical experiments about infants’ abilities to learn about the concept of transparency4. Infants who played with transparent containers or who used a transparent high chair tray did better on tasks involving transparent materials than infants who did not have those experiences. The prevailing theory was that infants could not perform these tasks until their brains matured. Titzer showed that it was the infants’ experiences with transparent objects that influenced their performance more than a predetermined maturation of the brain.
In the previous nine experiments, the infants were all under the age of 13 months. In some studies, Titzer only collected data to assist his mentors. Some of these studies involved longitudinal research. During this same period, he collected longitudinal data with his daughters, Aleka9 and Keelin10, as they learned written language during infancy.
After teaching his first daughter to read as an infant and after his second daughter began to recognize written words, he conducted a pilot study8 that was designed to see if other babies (besides his own) would learn to recognize words from watching a VHS video. The pilot study resulted in three main findings:
- Many of the parents did not follow the instructions. It appeared from this pilot study that the program has to be easy to use in order to be successful.
- The babies learned words when the parents followed the instructions.
- The video had to keep a very fast pace in order to keep the infants’ attention.
He did not publish the study, but it did help guide many of the decisions he made while creating the first commercial Your Baby Can Read! video.
Titzer also directed his own laboratory at Southeastern Louisiana University where he conducted experiments with groups of infants11,12 and toddlers13 including research using part of the Your Baby Can Read! video12,13,14.
Titzer’s research with his own babies9,10 attracted a lot of attention because he was teaching them to read. For example, he could write words in tiny sizes with letters only a few millimeters high and at 12 months of age his babies could read them. At that time, infant researchers were just learning that infants’ vision was better than previously believed.
By 12½ months, both of his daughters would turn their heads upside down when viewing a written word – even a novel written word that was upside down9,10. This demonstrated that they probably had already figured out that written words in English have a generalizable visual pattern. In other words, they had not only learned the words that they had been taught, but they were also beginning to learn some patterns of written language.
While this might sound amazing, infants typically figure out patterns of languages. For example, by six months of age, infants categorize sounds differently based on the language in which they have been immersed. Around age two, after listening to enough English, toddlers learn to add an ‘s’ onto words to make them plural. They figure out how to add an ‘ed’ onto words to make them past tense.
Babies do not have to be taught grammar using rules. Yet we know that they learn grammar (or patterns of spoken language) because they will add an ‘s’ or an ‘ed’ appropriately when a nonsense novel word is introduced to them in a lab setting. Young children figure out when to add an ‘ing’ onto words even though many of their parents may not know the grammar rules for doing so. Adults who learn English later in life may have trouble learning these same patterns.
Titzer also conducted studies on Your Baby Can Read funded by the Your Baby Can, LLC Company15,16.
For information on Titzer’s research on Your Baby Can Read!, please see experiments 1-5 and 8-9 of the 14 studies highlighted in the “Scientific Evidence that Your Baby Can Read Works” articles.
1 Titzer, R., Shea, J. B., & Romack, J. (1993). The effect of learner control on the acquisition and retention of a motor task. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 15, S84.
2 Titzer, R. C. (1991). The influence of a reminder on the contextual interference effect. Unpublished master’s thesis, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.
3 Shea, J. B., & Titzer, R. C. (1993). The influence of reminder trials on contextual interference effect. Journal of Motor Behavior, 25, 264-274.
4 Titzer, R. C. (1997). Infants’ Understanding of Transparency: A Reinterpretation of Studies Using the Object Retrieval Task and Visual Cliff, Dissertation, Indiana University.
5 Smith LB, Thelen E, Titzer R, McLin D. (1999). Knowing in the context of acting: the task dynamics of the A-not-B error. Psychological Review, 106(2), 235-60.
6 Titzer, R., & Thelen, E. (1996). The role of experience in infant perceptual-motor learning. (Abstract). Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17, p. 84.
7 Titzer, R., Thelen, E., & Smith, L.B. (1995). The effect of experience on the visual cliff and reaching task. (Abstract). Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17, p. 82.
8 Titzer, R. (1995). Pilot study to determine if other infants could learn to recognize written words from a video and to determine an optimal pace for the video. (Unpublished pilot study). Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.
9 Titzer, R. (1998, April). Case Study of an Infant Exposed to Written Language. Presented at the International Conference on Infant Studies. Atlanta, Georgia.
10 Titzer, R. (1997). Case Study of a Second Infant Learning Written Language. (Unpublished study on Keelin Titzer).
12 Titzer, R. (1998, April). Evidence that 2- and 3-Year-Old Babies and Toddlers Can Visually Discriminate Written Words. Presented at the International Conference on Infant Studies. Atlanta, Georgia.
13 Titzer, R. (1998). Does the A-not-B Error really disappear at age 12 months? (Abstract). Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17. p. 82.
14 Titzer, R. (1999). Five-month-old infants’ abilities to discriminate written language. Invited guest speaker. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.
15 Titzer, R. (2010a). The Effectiveness of the YBCR Program on Reading and Vocabulary Skills: Study 1.