Rigid thinking about deformables: Do children sometimes overgeneralize the shape bias?

Larissa K Samuelson, Jessica S Horst, Anne R Schutte, Brandi N Dobbertin

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Young children learning English are biased to attend to the shape of solid rigid objects when learning novel names. This study seeks further understanding of the processes that support this behavior by examining a previous finding that three-year-old children are also biased to generalize novel names for objects made from deformable materials by shape, even after the materials are made salient. In two experiments, we examined the noun generalizations of 72 two-, three- and four-year-old children with rigid and deformable stimuli. Data reveal that three-year-old, but not two- or four-year-old, children generalize names for deformable things by shape, and that this behavior is not due to the syntactic context of the task. We suggest this behavior is an overgeneralization of three-year-old children's knowledge of how rigid things are named and discuss the implications of this finding for a developmental account of the origins of the shape bias.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-589
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number3
Early online date27 Jun 2008
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008


  • Child
  • Child (Preschool)
  • Cognition
  • Concept Formation
  • Female
  • Form Perception
  • Generalization (Psychology)
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Thinking

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