All Creatures Great and Small: Category-Relevant Statistical Regularities in Children’s Books

AbstractSensitivity to statistical co-occurrence regularities is present from infancy. This sensitivity may contribute to learning in many domains, including category learning. However, prior research has not examined whether everyday input conveys category-relevant statistical regularities. This study assessed whether statistical regularities relevant to real-world categories are present in a commonly experienced source input – children’s picture books. We focused on animal categories because this is a domain in which children receive much exposure from an early age, while simultaneously holding persistent misconceptions about category membership beyond preschool years. Analysis of 80 books revealed that they: 1) Were likely to contain regularities from which individual species categories (e.g., “chicken”) might be learned, but 2) Were unlikely to contain regularities from which broader taxonomic categories (e.g., “bird”) might be learned. These findings point to a paucity of taxonomically-relevant statistical regularities that may contribute to persistent taxonomic misconceptions.

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