Object name learning provides on-the-job training for attention

Linda B. Smith, Susan S. Jones, Barbara Landau, Lisa Gershkoff-Stowe, Larissa Samuelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

394 Citations (Scopus)


By the age of 3, children easily learn to name new objects, extending new names for unfamiliar objects by similarity in shape. Two experiments tested the proposal that experience in learning object names tunes children's attention to the properties relevant for naming - in the present case, to the property of shape - and thus facilitates the learning of more object names. In Experiment 1, a 9-week longitudinal study, 17-month-old children who repeatedly played with and heard names for members of unfamiliar object categories well organized by shape formed the generalization that only objects with similar shapes have the same name. Trained children also showed a dramatic increase in acquisition of new object names outside of the laboratory during the course of the study. Experiment 2 replicated these findings and showed that they depended on children's learning both a coherent category structure and object names. Thus, children who learn specific names for specific things in categories with a common organizing property - in this case, shape - also learn to attend to just the right property - in this case, shape - for learning more object names.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-19
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2002

Cite this