Words, shape, visual search and visual working memory in 3-year-old children

Catarina Vales, Linda B. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Do words cue children's visual attention, and if so, what are the relevant mechanisms? Across four experiments, 3‐year‐old children (N = 163) were tested in visual search tasks in which targets were cued with only a visual preview versus a visual preview and a spoken name. The experiments were designed to determine whether labels facilitated search times and to examine one route through which labels could have their effect: By influencing the visual working memory representation of the target. The targets and distractors were pictures of instances of basic‐level known categories and the labels were the common name for the target category. We predicted that the label would enhance the visual working memory representation of the target object, guiding attention to objects that better matched the target representation. Experiments 1 and 2 used conjunctive search tasks, and Experiment 3 varied shape discriminability between targets and distractors. Experiment 4 compared the effects of labels to repeated presentations of the visual target, which should also influence the working memory representation of the target. The overall pattern fits contemporary theories of how the contents of visual working memory interact with visual search and attention, and shows that even in very young children heard words affect the processing of visual information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-79
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number1
Early online date11 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

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