Toddlers Always Get the Last Word: Recency biases in early verbal behavior


A popular conception about language development is that comprehension precedes production. Although true during the earliest stages of phonological development, once a child possesses the basic articulatory skills required for imitation, it need not necessarily be the case. A child could produce a word without possessing the fully formed lexical representation through imitation. In some cases, such as in response to questions containing fixed choices, this behavior could be mistaken for a deeper understanding of the words' semantic content. In this paper, we present evidence that 2- to 3-year-old children exhibit a robust recency bias when verbally responding to two-alternative choice questions (i.e., they select the second, most recently mentioned option), possibly due to the availability of the second word in phonological memory. We find further evidence of this effect outside of a laboratory setting in naturalistic conversational contexts in CHILDES (MacWhinney, 2000), a large corpus of transcribed child-adult interactions.

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