Toddlers can adaptively change how they categorise: Same objects, same session, two different categorical distinctions

Jessica S Horst, Ann E Ellis, Larissa K Samuelson, Erika Trejo, Samantha L Worzalla, Jessica R Peltan, Lisa M Oakes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Two experiments demonstrate that 14- to 18-month-old toddlers can adaptively change how they categorize a set of objects within a single session, and that this ability is related to vocabulary size. In both experiments, toddlers were presented with a sequential touching task with objects that could be categorized either according to some perceptually salient dimension corresponding to a taxonomic distinction (e.g. animals vs. vehicles) or to some less obvious dimension (e.g. rigid vs. deformable). In each experiment, children with larger productive vocabularies responded to both dimensions, showing evidence of sensitivity to each way of categorizing the items. Children with smaller productive vocabularies attended only to the taxonomically related categorical grouping. These experiments confirm that toddlers can adaptively shift the basis of their categorization and highlight the dynamic interaction between the child and the current task in early categorization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-105
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number1
Early online date13 Aug 2008
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


  • Child Development
  • Child Language
  • Concept Formation
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Form Perception
  • Generalization (Psychology)
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Vocabulary

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