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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantifying cross-situational statistics during parent-child toy play


According to cross-situational learning, infants aggregate statistical information across naming events to resolve ambiguous word-referent mappings. While lab experiments show that learners are sensitive to these statistics, in studies using naturalistic stimuli, adults often fail to infer the correct referent. Here, we examined how young learners' input “in the wild” differs from laboratory experiments. We analyzed the temporal and spatial regularities of parent naming events in a naturalistic dataset of parent-child play and tested their effect on infants' visual attention. Parents were less likely to name the same toy twice than to name two different toys in sequence, except at short lags (0>t>5s). Most of the visual scenes accompanying naming events were composed of several toys of approximately equal (small) size. Child-attention to the target toy appeared to be modulated primarily by size. These results underscore the importance of quantifying naturalistic statistical regularities for understanding the mechanisms of word learning.

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