Environmental effects on parental gesture and infant word learning

AbstractHow infants determine correct word-referent pairings within complex environments is not yet fully understood. The combination of multiple cues, including gestures, may guide learning as part of a communicative exchange between parent and child. Gesture use and word learning are interlinked, with early child gesture predicting later vocabulary size, and parental gesture predicting child gesture. However, the extent to which parents alter gesture cues during word learning according to referential uncertainty is not known. In this study, we manipulated the number of potential referents across conditions during a word learning task with 18–24-month-olds, and explored how changes in parental gesture use translated into infant word learning. We demonstrate that parents alter their gesture use according to the presence, but not the degree, of referential uncertainty. We further demonstrate that a degree of variability in the number of potential referents appears to benefit word learning.

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