Children tend to produce words earlier when they are connected to a variety of other words along the phonological and semantic dimensions. Though these semantic and phonological connectivity effects have been extensively documented, little is known about their underlying developmental mechanism. One possibility is that learning is driven by lexical network growth where highly connected words in the child's early lexicon enable learning of similar words. Another possibility is that learning is driven by highly connected words in the external learning (...) environment, instead of highly connected words in the early internal lexicon. The present study tests both scenarios systematically in both the phonological and semantic domains across 10 languages. We show that phonological and semantic connectivity in the learning environment drives growth in both production‐ and comprehension‐based vocabularies, even controlling for word frequency and length. This pattern of findings suggests a word learning process where children harness their statistical learning abilities to detect and learn highly connected words in the learning environment. (shrink)
Despite their diversity, human languages share consistent properties and regularities. Wherefrom does this consistency arise? And does it tell us something about the problem that all languages need to solve? The authors provide an intriguing analyses which focuses on the “communicative function of ambiguity” whose resolution entailed an equally intriguing “speaker–listener cross‐entropy objective for measuring the efficiency of linguistic systems from first principles of efficient language use.”.
The language we use over the course of conversation changes as we establish common ground and learn what our partner finds meaningful. Here we draw upon recent advances in natural language processing to provide a finer‐grained characterization of the dynamics of this learning process. We release an open corpus (>15,000 utterances) of extended dyadic interactions in a classic repeated reference game task where pairs of participants had to coordinate on how to refer to initially difficult‐to‐describe tangram stimuli. We find that (...) different pairs discover a wide variety of idiosyncratic but efficient and stable solutions to the problem of reference. Furthermore, these conventions are shaped by the communicative context: words that are more discriminative in the initial context (i.e., that are used for one target more than others) are more likely to persist through the final repetition. Finally, we find systematic structure in how a speaker's referring expressions become more efficient over time: Syntactic units drop out in clusters following positive feedback from the listener, eventually leaving short labels containing open‐class parts of speech. These findings provide a higher resolution look at the quantitative dynamics of ad hoc convention formation and support further development of computational models of learning in communication. (shrink)
Online data collection methods are expanding the ease and access of developmental research for researchers and participants alike. While its popularity among developmental scientists has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, its potential goes beyond just a means for safe, socially distanced data collection. In particular, advances in video conferencing software has enabled researchers to engage in face-to-face interactions with participants from nearly any location at any time. Due to the novelty of these methods, however, many researchers still remain uncertain about (...) the differences in available approaches as well as the validity of online methods more broadly. In this article, we aim to address both issues with a focus on moderated data collected using video-conferencing software. First, we review existing approaches for designing and executing moderated online studies with young children. We also present concrete examples of studies that implemented choice and verbal measures and looking time across both in-person and online moderated data collection methods. Direct comparison of the two methods within each study as well as a meta-analysis of all studies suggest that the results from the two methods are comparable, providing empirical support for the validity of moderated online data collection. Finally, we discuss current limitations of online data collection and possible solutions, as well as its potential to increase the accessibility, diversity, and replicability of developmental science. (shrink)
Previous accounts of how people develop expertise have focused on how deliberate practice transforms the cognitive and perceptual representations and processes that give rise to expertise. However, the likelihood of developing expertise with a particular tool may also depend on the degree to which that tool fits pre‐existing perceptual and cognitive abilities. The present studies explored whether the abacus—a descendent of the first human computing devices—may have evolved to exploit general biases in human visual attention, or whether developing expertise with (...) the abacus requires learning special strategies for allocating visual attention to the abacus. To address this question, we administered a series of visual search tasks to abacus experts and subjects who had little to no abacus experience, in which search targets and distractors were overlaid atop abacus “beads.” Across three studies, we found that both experts and naïve subjects were faster to detect targets in semantically relevant components of the abacus, suggesting that abacus training is not required to exhibit attentional biases toward these components of the abacus. This finding suggests that the attentional biases that scaffold numerical processing of the abacus may emerge from general properties of visual attention that are exploited by the design of the abacus itself. (shrink)
Although the language we encounter is typically embedded in rich discourse contexts, many existing models of processing focus largely on phenomena that occur sentence-internally. Similarly, most work on children's language learning does not consider how information can accumulate as a discourse progresses. Research in pragmatics, however, points to ways in which each subsequent utterance provides new opportunities for listeners to infer speaker meaning. Such inferences allow the listener to build up a representation of the speakers' intended topic and more generally (...) to identify relationships, structures, and messages that extend across multiple utterances. We address this issue by analyzing a video corpus of child–caregiver interactions. We use topic continuity as an index of discourse structure, examining how caregivers introduce and discuss objects across utterances. For the analysis, utterances are grouped into topical discourse sequences using three annotation strategies: raw annotations of speakers' referents, the output of a model that groups utterances based on those annotations, and the judgments of human coders. We analyze how the lexical, syntactic, and social properties of caregiver–child interaction change over the course of a sequence of topically related utterances. Our findings suggest that many cues used to signal topicality in adult discourse are also available in child-directed speech. (shrink)
This paper presents the Rational Action, Noisy Choice for Habituation (RANCH) model. The model was evaluated with adult looking time collected from a paradigm analogous to the infant habituation paradigm. And the model captured key patterns of looking time documented in developmental research: habituation and dishabituation.
What makes a word easy to learn? Early‐learned words are frequent and tend to name concrete referents. But words typically do not occur in isolation. Some words are predictable from their contexts; others are less so. Here, we investigate whether predictability relates to when children start producing different words (age of acquisition; AoA). We operationalized predictability in terms of a word's surprisal in child‐directed speech, computed using n‐gram and long‐short‐term‐memory (LSTM) language models. Predictability derived from LSTMs was generally a better (...) predictor than predictability derived from n‐gram models. Across five languages, average surprisal was positively correlated with the AoA of predicates and function words but not nouns. Controlling for concreteness and word frequency, more predictable predicates and function words were learned earlier. Differences in predictability between languages were associated with cross‐linguistic differences in AoA: the same word (when it was a predicate) was produced earlier in languages where the word was more predictable. (shrink)
Machines that learn and think like people must be able to learn from others. Social learning speeds up the learning process and – in combination with language – is a gateway to abstract and unobservable information. Social learning also facilitates the accumulation of knowledge across generations, helping people and artificial intelligences learn things that no individual could learn in a lifetime.
Yarkoni's analysis clearly articulates a number of concerns limiting the generalizability and explanatory power of psychological findings, many of which are compounded in infancy research. ManyBabies addresses these concerns via a radically collaborative, large-scale and open approach to research that is grounded in theory-building, committed to diversification, and focused on understanding sources of variation.
The linguistic input children receive across early childhood plays a crucial role in shaping their knowledge about the world. To study this input, researchers have begun applying distributional semantic models to large corpora of child‐directed speech, extracting various patterns of word use/co‐occurrence. Previous work using these models has not measured how these patterns may change throughout development, however. In this work, we leverage natural language processing methods—originally developed to study historical language change—to compare caregivers' use of words when talking to (...) younger versus older children. Some words' usage changed more than others; this variability could be predicted based on the word's properties at both the individual and category levels. These findings suggest that caregivers' changing patterns of word use may play a role in scaffolding children's acquisition of conceptual structure in early development. (shrink)