Variation across individuals and items determine learning outcomes from fast mapping

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Abstract

An approach to learning words known as “fast mapping” has been linked to unique neurobiological and behavioral markers in adult humans, including rapid lexical integration. However, the mechanisms supporting fast mapping are still not known. In this study, we sought to help change this by examining factors that modulate learning outcomes. In 90 subjects, we systematically manipulated the typicality of the items used to support fast mapping (foils), and quantified learners’ inclination to employ semantic, episodic, and spatial memory through the Survey of Autobiographical Memory (SAM). We asked how these factors affect lexical competition and recognition performance, and then asked how foil typicality and lexical competition are related in an independent dataset. We find that both the typicality of fast mapping foils, and individual differences in how different memory systems are employed, influence lexical competition effects after fast mapping, but not after other learning approaches. Specifically, learning a word through fast mapping with an atypical foil led to lexical competition, while a typical foil led to lexical facilitation. This effect was particularly evident in individuals with a strong tendency to employ semantic memory. We further replicated the relationship between continuous foil atypicality and lexical competition in an independent dataset. These findings suggest that semantic properties of the foils that support fast mapping can influence the degree and nature of subsequent lexical integration. Further, the effects of foils differ based on an individual's tendency to draw-on the semantic memory system.

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