When a word is worth more than a picture: Words lower the threshold for object identification in 3-year-old children

Catarina Vales, Linda B Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


A large literature shows strong developmental links between early language abilities and later cognitive abilities. We present evidence for one pathway by which language may influence cognition and development: by influencing how visual information is momentarily processed. Children were asked to identify a target in clutter and either saw a visual preview of the target or heard the basic-level name of the target. We hypothesized that the name of the target should activate category-relevant information and, thus, facilitate more rapid detection of the target amid distractors. Children who heard the name of the target before search were more likely to correctly identify the target at faster speeds of response, a result that supports the idea that words lower the threshold for target identification. This finding has significant implication for understanding the source of vocabulary-mediated individual differences in cognitive achievement and, more generally, for the relation between language and thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-47
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date5 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

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