Referential processing in 3- and 5-year-old children is egocentrically anchored

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2019 Aug;45(8):1387-1397. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000659. Epub 2018 Oct 4.


An ongoing debate in the literature on language acquisition is whether preschool children process reference in an egocentric way or whether they spontaneously and by-default take their partner's perspective into account. The reported study implements a computerized referential task with a controlled trial presentation and simple verbal instructions. Contrary to the predictions of the partner-specific view, entrained referential precedents give rise to faster processing for 3- and 5-year-old children, independently of whether the conversational partner is the same as in the lexical entrainment phase or not. Additionally, both age groups display a processing preference for the interaction with the same partner, be it for new or previously used referential descriptions. These results suggest that preschool children may adapt to their conversational partner; however, partner-specificity is encoded as low-level auditory-phonological priming rather than through inferences about a partner's perspective. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child, Preschool
  • Egocentrism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Phonetics
  • Semantics
  • Speech Perception