Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Exposure to more diverse objects speeds word learning in tots

Two toddlers are learning the word "cup." One sees three nearly identical cups; the other sees a tea cup, a sippy cup and a Styrofoam cup. Chances are, the second child will have a better sense of what a cup is and -- according to a new University of Iowa study -- may even have an advantage as he learns new words.

Published this month in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the research showed that 18-month-olds who played with a broader array of objects named by shape – for example, groups of bowls or buckets that were less similar in material, size or features – learned new words twice as fast as those who played with more similar objects.

Outside the lab, one month after the training, tots who had been exposed to the diverse objects were learning an average of nearly 10 new words per week. Kids in the other group were picking up four a week – typical for children that age without any special training. Researchers aren't sure how long the accelerated learning continued for the variable group, but they can explain why it may have occurred.

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. This attention to shape, called a "shape bias," is not typically seen until later in development. However, the researchers believe that kids exposed to more variety took the knowledge a step further, also learning when not to attend to shape. Tots in the variable group learned, for example, 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 (left), a UI 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. And, developing the ability to disregard shape for non-solids helps them learn words like pudding, Jell-O or milk."

Perry conducted the study with psychologist Larissa Samuelson (right) of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and UI alumni Lisa Malloy and Ryan Schiffer. The study involved 16 children who knew about 17 object names when the study began. Half of the kids were taught names of objects by playing with groups of toys that were nearly identical; the other half used toys that differed significantly – for example, a small, cloth, jack-o-lantern bucket; a trash bucket with no handle; and a traditional plastic bucket.

When tested on unfamiliar objects that fit into the categories they'd been taught – such as a bucket they'd never seen before – kids in the variable group performed better. This showed an ability to generalize the knowledge.

"We believe the variable training gave them a better idea of what a bucket was. They discovered that the buckets were all alike in general shape, but that having a handle or being a particular texture didn't matter," Perry said. "In contrast, the children exposed to a tightly organized group of objects developed such strict criteria for what constitutes a bucket that they were reluctant to call it a bucket if it was different from what they'd learned."

In additional tests, researchers looked at whether the tots learned names of new objects by focusing on substance or shape. The variable group tuned into shape for solids but material for non-solids, a distinction children aren't typically capable of making until the age of 3, when their vocabulary reaches 150 nouns.

Further investigation is necessary to pinpoint exactly why the variable group had more success in this area, but the researchers say their study is the first to show that variability at the local level can help children learn something more global about the importance of particular object features for different categories of things.

"What children learn about one category sets the stage for their future learning," Samuelson said. "Similar exemplars help children learn specific names for specific objects. But variable exemplars teach them more about the whole category, which helps them learn names of other new things faster. That's why kids in the variable group learned more outside the lab – they learned more about naming in general, not just specific examples of the specific categories they'd seen in the lab."

The study was funded by a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant awarded to Samuelson. Samuelson and Perry are members of the UI Delta Center, which focuses on research in the fields of learning and development. To learn more about the center, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Lynn Perry, Department of Psychology, 319-353-1977,; Kelli Andresen, University News Services, 319-384-0044,; Writer: Nicole Riehl

Jennifer Brown | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>