Timing matters: the impact of label synchrony on infant categorisation.
Althaus N., Plunkett K.
The impact of labelling on infant visual categorisation has yielded contradictory outcomes. Some findings indicate a beneficial role while others point to interference effects in the presence of labels. The locus of these divergent outcomes is largely unclear. We explore the hypothesis that the timing of the label is of crucial importance, proposing that synchronous presentation of words and objects induces a higher processing load than asynchronous presentation (image onset before labelling). A novelty preference experiment with 12-month-olds reveals that synchronous presentation leads to a diminished preference for a novel object on test in comparison to asynchronous labelling, suggesting a detrimental impact on category learning. However, analyses of infants' gaze patterns to object parts reveal that even synchronous labels do not hinder learning completely. We conclude that synchronous labels interfere with the familiarisation process, but this process involves shifts in familiarity vs. novelty preference rather than overshadowing of visual learning. Besides offering detailed insight into the effects of labelling on infants' visual attention, these findings offer the potential to reconcile previous contradictory results.