The role of speaker eye gaze and mutual exclusivity in novel word learning by monolingual and bilingual children

J Exp Child Psychol. 2020 Sep:197:104878. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2020.104878. Epub 2020 Jun 21.


The current study examined the combined effect of a speaker's eye gaze and mutual exclusivity (ME) on novel word retention in monolingual and bilingual children. A novel object was presented with a familiar object, and children were taught new labels for objects under two conditions. In the Align condition, the speaker's gaze and the ME cue provided the same information (the speaker looked at the novel object while labeling it with a novel name). In the Conflict condition, the speaker's gaze and the ME cue provided competing information (the speaker looked at the familiar object while labeling it with a novel name). Using a visual world eye-tracking paradigm, children's retention was assessed by testing novel objects with novel labels and by testing the familiar objects with novel labels. We found that all children successfully retained the novel labels for novel objects when both eye gaze and ME provided the same information. However, when the cues conflicted, bilingual children did not perform above chance for either novel objects or familiar objects. In contrast, monolingual children demonstrated retention of novel labels for familiar objects but not for novel objects. Together, the findings suggest that redundant cues benefit word retention in all children regardless of linguistic background. Furthermore, when speaker gaze and ME conflict, bilingual children appear to disregard both cues during retention, whereas monolingual children may be more willing to retain novel labels for familiar words, suggesting that they prioritize a speaker's eye gaze over ME.

Keywords: Bilingualism; Eye tracking; Mutual exclusivity; Retention; Speaker eye gaze; Word learning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular*
  • Humans
  • Linguistics
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Professional Competence
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Verbal Behavior*
  • Verbal Learning*