Jenny Saffran, PhD – Slide of the Week

Jenny Saffran, PhD - Slide of the Week

Title: Toddlers are better at learning labels for objects that appear in distinct physical environments.

Legend: Toddlers (21- to 24-month-olds) viewed videos of novel objects being placed in a box akin to a shape-sorter toy. For some objects, the opening in the box matched the shape of the object. For other objects, the opening fit multiple objects. The objects were subsequently labeled with novel words. When tested using an eye-gaze procedure, toddlers were better at recognizing the names for objects that were previously experienced being placed into openings that matched their shapes.

Citation: Breitfeld, E., & Saffran, J. R. (2023). Early word learning is influenced by physical environments. Child development, 10.1111/cdev.14046. Advance online publication.

Jenny Saffran, PhD
Jenny Saffran, PhD

Abstract: During word learning moments, toddlers experience labels and objects in particular environments. Do toddlers learn words better when the physical environment creates contrasts between objects with different labels? Thirty-six 21- to 24-month-olds (92% White, 22 female, data collected 8/21–4/22) learned novel words for novel objects presented using an apparatus that mimicked a shape-sorter toy. The manipulation concerned whether or not the physical features of the environments in which objects occurred heightened the contrasts between the objects. Toddlers only learned labels for objects presented in environments where the apparatus heightened the contrast between the objects (b = .068). These results emphasize the importance of investigating word learning in physical environments that more closely approximate young children’s everyday experiences with objects.

Investigator: Jenny Saffran, PhD

About the Lab: In the Infant Learning Lab, we study how infants discover the structure of their environment, especially language. In the Little Listeners Lab, we study how autistic toddlers learn to understand language.

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