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Dr. Lauren Slone, Psychology

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Language learning is a complex, dynamic process (Kaplan, 2008). Nevertheless, research indicates that infants as young as 6 months can learn the names for common objects (Bergelson & Swingley, 2012). Learning to associate objects and their names is a difficult task. However, research demonstrates that when infants see objects and hear their names simultaneously across multiple settings, they can begin to associate word-object pairings (Yu & Smith, 2008). This process is called "cross-situational learning." The present study uses eye-tracking to examine how infants accomplish cross-situational word learning. Infants are randomly assigned to one of two conditions: a naming condition where object names are heard (experimental) and a no naming condition where they are not heard (control). Participants see 12 novel objects on a screen across 80 trials. During each trial, three of the 12 objects are shown (one "target", two "distractors"). In the naming condition (experimental), one object per trial ("target") is named (figure A). In the no-naming condition (control), the target is not named. The eye tracker records where participants are looking on the screen. Thirteen infants have participated thus far. We computed the percentage of time infants looked to the target objects compared to distractor objects. If infants in the naming condition are learning to map the novel words to the correct objects, we expect them to look more to the target objects compared to participants in the no-naming condition, but not more to the distractor objects. This is precisely what our preliminary data demonstrates (figure C). This pattern suggests that even when infants see several objects while hearing one object's name, they can learn to link the names to the correct objects over time. Our next steps include gathering more infant data and doing a trial by trial analysis to better understand how infants are accomplishing this cross-situational word learning.


This research was supported by the Department of Kinesiology at Hope College.

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