Acquisition of Word–Object Associations by 14-Month-Old Infants

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The following experiments were designed to determine the age at which infants can first readily learn word–object pairings with only minimal exposure and without social or contextual support. To address this question, 8- to 14-month-old infants were tested on their ability to form word–object associations in a “switch” design. Infants were habituated to 2 word–object pairings and then tested with 1 trial that maintained a familiar word–object pairing and 1 that involved a familiar word and object in a new combination. Across 6 experiments, only 14-month-old infants formed word–object associations under these controlled testing conditions but appeared to do so only when the objects were moving. Although 8- to 12-month-olds did not form the associations, they appeared to process both the word and the object information. These studies provide strong evidence that 14-month-old infants can rapidly learn arbitrary associations between words and objects, that this ability appears to develop at about 14 months of age, and that the Switch design is a useful method for assessing word–object learning in infancy.

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