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The effects of category curiosity and density on early word learning

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posted on 15.05.2018, 09:07 by Lena AckermannLena Ackermann, Nivedita Mani, Robert Hepach

Does children’s curiosity for a particular category (e.g., animals, vehicles) impact their learning of novel members of these categories? If so, then not only would curiosity impact their learning of novel members, but might also influence the semantic density of categories in the child’s vocabulary: Children should know more words in the categories they are more interested in.


Here we investigate the influence of category curiosity and category density on the acquisition of new word-object-associations. 30-months-olds (n=22) were, first, presented with 16 familiar objects from two broad (M = 31 members) and two narrow (M = 11 members) categories and heard their corresponding labels while their pupil dilation response was measured as an index of their interest in members of the different categories. Next, they were exposed to novel members from each of the four categories and tested on their learning of the new word-object-associations. In addition, a vocabulary questionnaire and a questionnaire on the child’s interests in different category members were administered.


Analyses indicate that children are able to learn novel members from both broad and narrow categories, but learning is more robust in the broad categories. This suggests that children are able to leverage their existing semantic knowledge to learn new words, which is in line with previous research. Ongoing pupil dilation analyses will then examine the extent to which learning and category size is impacted by children’s inherent curiosity in objects from a particular category.

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