Sampling to learn words: Adults and children sample words that reduce referential ambiguity

AbstractHow do learners gather new information during word learning? We present evidence that adult learners will choose to receive additional training on object-label associations that reduce ambiguity about reference during cross-situational word learning. This ambiguity-reduction strategy is related to improved test performance. We find mixed evidence that children (4-8 years of age) show a similar preference to seek information about words experienced in ambiguous word learning situations. In an initial experiment, children did not preferentially select object-label associations that remained ambiguous during cross-situational word learning. However, this may be explained by some children having relatively high certainty about object-label associations for which they did not see evidence disconfirming their initial hypothesis. In a second experiment that increased the relative ambiguity of two sets of novel object-label associations, we found evidence that children preferentially make selections that reduce ambiguity about novel word meanings.

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