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When and how do infants develop a semantic system of words that are related to each other? We investigated word-word associations in early lexical development using an adaptation of the inter-modal preferential looking task where word pairs (as opposed to single target words) were used to direct infants' attention towards a target picture. Two words (prime and target) were presented in quick succession after which infants were presented with a picture pair (target and distracter). Prime-target word pairs were either semantically and associatively related or unrelated; the targets were either named or unnamed. Experiment 1 demonstrated a lexical-semantic priming effect for 21-month olds but not for 18-month olds: unrelated prime words interfered with linguistic target identification for 21-month olds. Follow-up experiments confirmed the interfering effects of unrelated prime words and identified the existence of repetition priming effects as young as 18 months of age. The results of these experiments indicate that infants have begun to develop semantic-associative links between lexical items as early as 21 months of age.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





3633 - 3647


Acoustic Stimulation, Age Factors, Female, Humans, Infant, Language Development, Linguistics, Male, Semantics, Verbal Learning, Vocabulary