Attention To Functional Properties In Toddlers' Naming And Problem-Solving

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Cognitive Development


Under what conditions will toddlers attend specifically to functionally relevant properties when using or naming artifacts? Children saw novel objects whose functional affordances were easily inferable from perceptible structural properties. Test objects differed in functionally relevant and/or irrelevant ways. For each participant, an Activity Session preceded or followed a Naming Session. When generalizing a novel problem solution (in the Activity Session), children attended selectively to functional properties; they also showed some influence of global appearance; session order made no difference. When generalizing a novel category name (in the Naming Session), children were influenced exclusively by functionally relevant properties if they had had previous experience of the test objects' affordances (i.e., when Naming occurred second). Without such direct experience (when Naming occurred first), children largely generalized by global appearance-with only one suggestive exception. The Naming-second results constitute a striking example of attention to function in toddlers' word generalization. Still, the Naming-first results hint that it may be less robust than in older children.

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