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Infants' ability to use language as a guide to inductive inference Desjardins, Renée Nicole

Abstract

The present studies were designed to address whether infants use language to guide their inferences about novel objects. In Study 1, forty-eight infants from two age groups (16-18 and 20-22 months) participated in a task which used exploratory play as a window on inferential abilities. Infants explored novel toys presented in pairs: The first toy produced an interesting but non-obvious property while the second toy was invisibly altered such that it failed to produce the target property. In the Labeled condition both toys were moderately similar in appearance and given a common label. In the Unlabeled Control condition moderately similar toys were talked about in a general way as were dissimilar toys in the Baseline Control condition. The frequency of infants' attempts to elicit the target property was marginally higher in the Unlabeled Control condition compared to the Baseline Control condition. This suggests that infants may have, with difficulty, perceived the greater degree of similarity between moderately similar toys in the Unlabeled Control condition compared to the dissimilar toys in the Baseline Control condition. When toys were labeled, infants across the 16-22 month range attempted to reproduce the target property with the second toy more frequently than in the Unlabeled Control condition indicating that they used the object labels to guide their inferences about object properties. Study 2 compared the frequency of infants' attempts to elicit the target property from the second toy when two toys were given a common label (Same Label condition) as opposed to different labels (Different Label condition). Eighteen 20- to 22-month-olds showed a marginally higher frequency of target actions in the Same Label condition compared to the Different Label condition suggesting that they understood that two toys should share a common label before that label can be used to guide expectations about object properties. Together these studies provide evidence that infants from 20 months of age understand that object labels can be used as a guide to inference, and some suggestion that this ability may be present from 16 months.

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