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Which objects and animals are children willing to accept as referents for words they know? To answer this question, the authors assessed early word comprehension using the preferential looking task. Children were shown 2 stimuli side by side (a target and a distractor) and heard the target stimulus named. The target stimulus was either a typical or an atypical exemplar of the named category. It was predicted that children first connect typical examples with the target name and broaden the extension of the name as they get older to include less typical examples. Experiment 1 shows that when targets are named, 12-month-olds display an increase in target looking for typical but not atypical targets whereas 24-month-olds display an increase for both. Experiment 2 shows that 18-month-olds display a pattern similar to that of 24-month-olds. Implications for the early development of word comprehension are discussed.


Journal article


Dev Psychol

Publication Date





1072 - 1078


Adult, Animals, Birds, Child, Preschool, Concept Formation, Discrimination Learning, Female, Humans, Infant, Language Development, Male, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Problem Solving, Semantics, Struthioniformes, Vocabulary