Concept-based word learning in human infants

TitleConcept-based word learning in human infants
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsYin, J., and G. Csibra
Journal titlePsychological Science

It is debated whether infants initially learn object labels by mapping them onto similarity-defining perceptual features or onto concepts of object kinds. We addressed this question by attempting to teach infants words for behaviorally defined action roles. In a series of experiments, we found that 14-month-olds could rapidly learn a label for the role the chaser plays in a chasing scenario, even when the different instances of chasers did not share perceptual features. Furthermore, when infants could choose, they preferred to interpret a novel label as expressing the actor’s role within the observed interaction rather than as being associated with the actor’s appearance. These results demonstrate that infants can learn labels as easily, or even easier, for concepts identified by abstract behavioral characteristics than by perceptual features. Thus, already at early stages of word learning, infants expect that novel words express concepts.

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