Multiple variable cues in the environment promote accurate and robust word learning


Learning how words refer to aspects of the environment is a complex task, but one that is supported by numerous cues within the environment which constrain the possibilities for matching words to their intended referents. In this paper we tested the predictions of a computational model of multiple cue integration for word learning, that predicted variation in the presence of cues provides an optimal learning situation. In a cross-situational learning task with adult participants, we varied the reliability of presence of distributional, prosodic, and gestural cues. We found that the best learning occurred when cues were often present, but not always. The effect of variability increased the salience of individual cues for the learner, but resulted in robust learning that was not vulnerable to individual cues’ presence or absence. Thus, variability of multiple cues in the language-learning environment provided the optimal circumstances for word learning.

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