Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis campus only



First Advisor

Jane Childers


Children learning verbs must process dynamic events and link new verbs to these events. In everyday life, events linked to a particular verb’s meaning are often interspersed with irrelevant events in a continuous stream of action. This project will ask how children learn verbs while viewing whole scenes that are either relevant or irrelevant (Study 1) and scenes that begin or end with irrelevant actions (Study 2). The theory used to guide our research, structural alignment theory, predicts that irrelevant events or parts of events will be ignored because they cannot be aligned well with other events. It also allows us to predict that being able to compare multiple scenes, and discard irrelevant events or parts of events, will help children learn and extend new verbs to new events.

In two studies, English-speaking 2 1/2 year old children (range: 2;4-2;10) and 3 ½ year old children (range: 3;4-3;10) were recruited through four local preschools, telephone calls and mail outs to local parents, and through a laboratory website. In Study 1, children were shown a set of 5 events during a learning phase, some children seeing one order of events (DTTDT or Distractor event first) and some seeing a different order of events (TTDDT or Target event first). At test children are asked to extend the verb to a target vs. a new distractor action. Children in both ages and conditions succeeded at test. In Study 2, children were exposed to 2 verb sets that showed a distractor event immediately before (and connected to) the relevant event (Distractor First) or a distractor event immediately after the relevant event (Distractor Last). As in Study 1, children were asked to point to a new event to extend the verb at test. Both studies included video stimuli shown on an iPad. Preliminary results from Study 2 show that children may be able to extend the verb in the Distractor Last condition, but perform at chance in the Distractor First condition. These two studies are important because they show that children can discard irrelevant events (or parts of events) as needed in everyday life.