Previous studies demonstrate that while toddlers can match words with their referent before the age of one, they only begin to extract phonologically- and semantically-related information from speech later in the second year. However, the order and manner in which this information is extracted remains unresolved. In two experiments, we adapted the adult four-picture Visual World Paradigm (VWP) (Huettig & McQueen, 2007) for toddler testing: toddlers hear a spoken word and see pictures that are phonologically-related, semantically-related or unrelated to the spoken-word. We demonstrate that, similar to adults, 24- to 30-month-old toddlers attended to a phonological match faster than a semantic match, and that these differences hold irrespective of whether the semantic match is taxonomic or thematic in character. Our findings suggest that language shapes toddlers’ cognition by biasing their selective attention to relevant information in the visual world, which is likely to enhance the efficiency of mental activities, such as learning and making analogical inferences.
Journal of Memory and Language