Young children associate novel words with complex objects rather than salient parts

Dev Psychol. 2007 Sep;43(5):1051-61. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.43.5.1051.


How do children learn associations between novel words and complex perceptual displays? Using a visual preference procedure, the authors tested 12- and 19-month-olds to see whether the infants would associate a novel word with a complex 2-part object or with either of that object's parts, both of which were potentially objects in their own right and 1 of which was highly salient to infants. At both ages, children's visual fixation times during test were greater to the entire complex object than to the salient part (Experiment 1) or to the less salient part (Experiment 2)--when the original label was requested. Looking times to the objects were equal if a new label was requested or if neutral audio was used during training (Experiment 3). Thus, from 12 months of age, infants associate words with whole objects, even those that could potentially be construed as 2 separate objects and even if 1 of the parts is salient.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Association Learning*
  • Attention
  • Concept Formation
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Semantics*
  • Verbal Learning*