Too much of a good thing: How novelty biases and vocabulary influence known and novel referent selection in 18-month-old children and associative learning models

Sarah C. Kucker, Bob McMurray, Larissa K. Samuelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
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Identifying the referent of novel words is a complex process that young children do with relative ease. When given multiple objects along with a novel word, children select the most novel item, sometimes retaining the word‐referent link. Prior work is inconsistent, however, on the role of object novelty. Two experiments examine 18‐month‐old children's performance on referent selection and retention with novel and known words. The results reveal a pervasive novelty bias on referent selection with both known and novel names and, across individual children, a negative correlation between attention to novelty and retention of new word‐referent links. A computational model examines possible sources of the bias, suggesting novelty supports in‐the‐moment behavior but not retention. Together, results suggest that when lexical knowledge is weak, attention to novelty drives behavior, but alone does not sustain learning. Importantly, the results demonstrate that word learning may be driven, in part, by low‐level perceptual processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-493
Number of pages31
JournalCognitive Science
Issue numberS2
Early online date6 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • word learning
  • cognitive development
  • connectionist model
  • fast-mapping
  • novelty

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