Can Young Children Ignore Irrelevant Events, or Subevents, During Verb Learning?

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Children learning a verb may benefit from hearing it across situations. At the same time, in everyday contexts, situations in which a verb is heard will be interrupted by distracting events. Using Structural Alignment theory as a framework, Study 1 asks whether children can learn a verb when irrelevant, interleaved events are present. Two½- and 3½-year-old children saw dynamic events and were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions (differing in orders of events) or one of two control conditions. They extended the verbs in the experimental conditions, and not the control conditions. Three ½-year-olds were more successful than 2½-year-olds, though the younger children could extend verbs. A more difficult task is segmenting dynamic action into subevents that could be relevant for a verb (e.g., finding “chopping” in a cooking scene). In Study 2, 2½-, 3½-, and 4½-year-old children were assigned to experimental conditions in which relevant events flowed into irrelevant events (or vice versa) or to a control. Two½-year-olds failed to extend the verbs at test, differing from the older children; children in experimental conditions extended the verbs while children in the control condition did not. Altogether, these results show children can ignore irrelevant events (and subevents), and extend new verbs by 3½ years. Results are important to understand learning in everyday contexts in which verbs are heard in varied situations over time.





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Journal of Cognition and Development