Tracking linguistic and attentional influences on preferential looking in infancy
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One unresolved issue in early word learning research is the relationship between word learning, categorization, and attention. Two distinct cognitive processes, attentional preferences related to categorical processing and inter-modal matching are involved in this relationship. Keeping the effects of these processes separate and controlled can be a difficult task. Not doing so can potentially confound the interpretation of research in this area. In a series of four preferential looking studies, the effects of referential assignment and novelty seeking in infancy were teased apart. In Study 1, 13-month olds preferred to look toward a monitor on which the stimuli changed category on every trial, and away from a monitor on which the stimuli were drawn from a single category. This preference developed in conditions in which infants listened to labels, non-language sound, or participated in silence. In Study 2, 18-month-olds developed the same preference when listening to non-language sounds or when participating in silence, but developed no preference when listening to labels. Results of studies 3 and 4 suggest that the lack of preference by 18-month-olds in the label condition result from competing behaviors of novelty seeking and referential assignment.