How young children integrate information sources to infer the meaning of words

Nat Hum Behav. 2021 Aug;5(8):1046-1054. doi: 10.1038/s41562-021-01145-1. Epub 2021 Jul 1.


Before formal education begins, children typically acquire a vocabulary of thousands of words. This learning process requires the use of many different information sources in their social environment, including their current state of knowledge and the context in which they hear words used. How is this information integrated? We specify a developmental model according to which children consider information sources in an age-specific way and integrate them via Bayesian inference. This model accurately predicted 2-5-year-old children's word learning across a range of experimental conditions in which they had to integrate three information sources. Model comparison suggests that the central locus of development is an increased sensitivity to individual information sources, rather than changes in integration ability. This work presents a developmental theory of information integration during language learning and illustrates how formal models can be used to make a quantitative test of the predictive and explanatory power of competing theories.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Child Development
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Vocabulary*