Reference: ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists, February 7, 2011
Eighteen-month-olds who played with a broader array of objects named by shape learned new words twice as fast as those who played with more similar objects, according to a new study at the University of Iowa.
Outside the lab a month after the training, toddlers who had been exposed to the diverse objects were learning an average of nearly 10 new words per week. Children in the other group were picking up four a week, which is typical for that age without any special training.
All of the children given extra training with words figured out that shape was the most important distinguishing feature when learning to name solid objects. Typically, this attention to shape is not seen until later in development. However, the researchers believe that children exposed to more variety took the knowledge a step further and learned when not to attend to shape. For example, children in the variable group learned to focus on material rather than shape when hearing names for non-solid substances.
“Knowing where to direct their attention helps them learn words more quickly overall,” said lead author Lynn Perry, a doctoral student in psychology. “The shape bias enhances vocabulary development because most of the words young kids learn early on are names of categories organized by similarity in shape.” In addition, developing the ability to disregard shape for non-solids helps them learn words like pudding or milk.
See the remainder of the article at www.advanceweb.com/speech.
Reference from Perry, L.K., Samuelson, K.k., Malloy, L.M., et al. (2010). Learn locally, think globally: Exemplar variability supports higher-order generalization and word learning. Psychological Science, 21 (12):1894-1902