When Do Children Understand "Opposite"?

J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2015 Aug 1;58(4):1233-44. doi: 10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-14-0222.


Purpose: The aims of the present research were to determine (a) the age at which children with typical development understand the concept of opposite, (b) whether this is related to other cognitive abilities or experiences, and (c) whether there is early implicit understanding of the concept.

Method: Children (N = 204) between 3 and 5 years of age were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 experimental conditions in a novel opposite task. Children's language and working memory skills were assessed, and parents provided information about children's access to learning materials about opposites.

Results: In the opposite task, 4- and 5-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds, demonstrated acquisition of the concept of opposite. Children demonstrated this understanding only when asked for the "opposite" one, suggesting that antonymy was not made salient by stimulus properties alone. Children's accuracy was not significantly related to their language or working memory skills, to their child care experience, or to whether parents reported having books or games about opposites or playing opposite word games with children. Eye gaze analyses provided no evidence for early implicit understanding of the concept of opposite.

Conclusion: Children with typical development have a concept of opposite by 4 years of age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Language*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comprehension
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Play and Playthings
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Psychological Tests
  • Random Allocation
  • Reaction Time
  • Reading