Environmental Regularities Shape Semantic Organization throughout Development

AbstractOur knowledge of the world is an organized lexico-semantic network in which concepts can be linked by relations, such as “taxonomic” relations between members of the same stable category (e.g., cat and sheep), or association between entities that occur together or in the same context (e.g., sock and foot). Prior research has focused on the emergence of knowledge about taxonomic relations, whereas association has received little attention. The goal of the present research was to investigate how semantic organization development is shaped by both taxonomic relatedness and associations based on co-occurrence between labels for concepts in language. Using a Cued Recall paradigm, we found a substantial influence of co-occurrence in both 4-5-year-olds and adults, whereas taxonomic relatedness only influenced adults. These results demonstrate a critical and persistent influence of co-occurrence associations on semantic organization. We discuss these findings in relation to theories of semantic development.

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