Reproducibility and a unifying explanation: Lessons from the shape bias

Sarah C. Kucker, Larissa K. Samuelson, Lynn K. Perry, Hanako Yoshida, Eliana Colunga, Megan G. Lorenz, Linda B. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


The goal of science is to advance our understanding of particular phenomena. However, in the field of development, the phenomena of interest are complex, multifaceted, and change over time. Here, we use three decades of research on the shape bias to argue that while replication is clearly an important part of the scientific process, integration across the findings of many studies that include variations in procedure is also critical to create a coherent understanding of the thoughts and behaviors of young children. The “shape bias,” or the tendency to generalize a novel label to novel objects of the same shape, is a reliable and robust behavioral finding and has been shown to predict future vocabulary growth and possible language disorders. Despite the robustness of the phenomenon, the way in which the shape bias is defined and tested has varied across studies and laboratories. The current review argues that differences in performance that come from even seemingly minor changes to the participants or task can offer critical insight to underlying mechanisms, and that working to incorporate data from multiple labs is an important way to reveal how task variation and a child’s individual pathway creates behavior—a key issue for understanding developmental phenomena.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-165
Number of pages10
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Early online date19 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • Reproducibility
  • Shape bias
  • Task effects
  • Word learning
  • Individual differences

Cite this