Four- and 5-year-old children adapt to the reliability of conflicting sources of information to learn novel words

Marion Beretti, Naomi Havron, Anne Christophe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A central challenge in language acquisition is the integration of multiple sources of information, potentially in conflict, to acquire new knowledge and adjust current linguistic representations. One way to accomplish this is to assign more weight to more reliable sources of information in context. We tested the hypothesis that children adjust the weight of different sources of information during learning, considering two specific sources of information: their knowledge of the meaning of familiar words (semantics) and their familiarity with syntax. We varied the reliability of these sources of information through an induction phase (reliable syntax or reliable semantics). At test, French 4- and 5-year-old children and adults listened to sentences where information provided by these two cues conflicted and were asked to choose between two videos that illustrate the sentence. One video presented the reasonable choice if the sentence is assumed to be syntactically correct, but familiar words refer to novel things (e.g., une mange–“an eats” describes a novel object). The other video was the reasonable choice if the sentence is assumed to be syntactically incorrect and familiar words’ meaning is preserved (e.g., “an eats” describes a girl eating and actually should have been “she eats”). As predicted, the proportion of syntactic choices (e.g., interpreting mange–“eats” as a novel noun) was found to be higher in the reliable syntax condition than in the reliable semantics condition, showing that children and adults can adapt their expectations to the reliability of sources of information.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104927
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume200
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Grants ANR-13-APPR-0012 LangLearn, ANR-17-CE28-0007-01 LangAge, and ANR-17-EURE-0017 FrontCog), a postdoctoral grant to Naomi Havron from the French Embassy in Israel and the Victor Smorgon Charitable Fund, and a Congé Individuel de Formation (CIF) grant to Marion Beretti from the Fongecif Ile De France. We thank the school and children for their participation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.

Keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Cue integration
  • Language acquisition
  • Reliability
  • Syntactic bootstrapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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