skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Title: Real-world statistics at two timescales and a mechanism for infant learning of object names
Infants begin learning the visual referents of nouns before their first birthday. Despite considerable empirical and theoretical effort, little is known about the statistics of the experiences that enable infants to break into object–name learning. We used wearable sensors to collect infant experiences of visual objects and their heard names for 40 early-learned categories. The analyzed data were from one context that occurs multiple times a day and includes objects with early-learned names: mealtime. The statistics reveal two distinct timescales of experience. At the timescale of many mealtime episodes ( n = 87), the visual categories were pervasively present, but naming of the objects in each of those categories was very rare. At the timescale of single mealtime episodes, names and referents did cooccur, but each name–referent pair appeared in very few of the mealtime episodes. The statistics are consistent with incremental learning of visual categories across many episodes and the rapid learning of name–object mappings within individual episodes. The two timescales are also consistent with a known cortical learning mechanism for one-episode learning of associations: new information, the heard name, is incorporated into well-established memories, the seen object category, when the new information cooccurs with the reactivation of that slowly established memory.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1842817
NSF-PAR ID:
10346418
Author(s) / Creator(s):
;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Volume:
119
Issue:
18
ISSN:
0027-8424
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Early object name learning is often conceptualized as a problem of mapping heard names to referents. However, infants do not hear object names as discrete events but rather in extended interactions organized around goal-directed actions on objects. The present study examined the statistical structure of the nonlinguistic events that surround parent naming of objects. Parents and 12-month-old infants were left alone in a room for 10 minutes with 32 objects available for exploration. Parent and infant handling of objects and parent naming of objects were coded. The four measured statistics were from measures used in the study of coherent discourse: (i) a frequency distribution in which actions were frequently directed to a few objects and more rarely to other objects; (ii) repeated returns to the high-frequency objects over the 10- minute play period; (iii) clustered repetitions and continuity of actions on objects; and (iv) structured networks of transitions among objects in play that connected all the played-with objects. Parent naming was infre- quent but related to the statistics of object-directed actions. The impli- cations of the discourse-like stream of actions are discussed in terms of learning mechanisms that could support rapid learning of object names from relatively few name-object co-occurrences. 
    more » « less
  2. The learning of first object names is deemed a hard problem due to the uncertainty inherent in mapping a heard name to the intended referent in a cluttered and variable world. However, human infants readily solve this problem. Despite considerable theoretical discussion, relatively little is known about the uncertainty infants face in the real world. We used head-mounted eye tracking during parent–infant toy play and quantified the uncertainty by measuring the distribution of infant attention to the potential referents when a parent named both familiar and unfamiliar toy objects. The results show that infant gaze upon hearing an object name is often directed to a single referent which is equally likely to be a wrong competitor or the intended target. This bimodal gaze distribution clarifies and redefines the uncertainty problem and constrains possible solutions. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Object names are a major component of early vocabularies and learning object names depends on being able to visually recognize objects in the world. However, the fundamental visual challenge of the moment‐to‐moment variations in object appearances that learners must resolve has received little attention in word learning research. Here we provide the first evidence that image‐level object variability matters and may be the link that connects infant object manipulation to vocabulary development. Using head‐mounted eye tracking, the present study objectively measured individual differences in the moment‐to‐moment variability of visual instances of the same object, from infants’ first‐person views. Infants who generated more variable visual object images through manual object manipulation at 15 months of age experienced greater vocabulary growth over the next six months. Elucidating infants’ everyday visual experiences with objects may constitute a crucial missing link in our understanding of the developmental trajectory of object name learning.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Most research on early language learning focuses on the objects that infants see and the words they hear in their daily lives, although growing evidence suggests that motor development is also closely tied to language development. To study the real‐time behaviors required for learning new words during free‐flowing toy play, we measured infants’ visual attention and manual actions on to‐be‐learned toys. Parents and 12‐to‐26‐month‐old infants wore wireless head‐mounted eye trackers, allowing them to move freely around a home‐like lab environment. After the play session, infants were tested on their knowledge of object‐label mappings. We found that how often parents named objects during play did not predict learning, but instead, it was infants’ attention during and around a labeling utterance that predicted whether an object‐label mapping was learned. More specifically, we found that infant visual attention alone did not predict word learning. Instead, coordinated, multimodal attention–when infants’ hands and eyes were attending to the same object–predicted word learning. Our results implicate a causal pathway through which infants’ bodily actions play a critical role in early word learning.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Infant language learning depends on the distribution of co‐occurrenceswithinlanguage–between words and other words–andbetweenlanguage content and events in the world. Yet infant‐directed speech is not limited to words that refer to perceivable objects and actions. Rather, caregivers’ utterances contain a range of syntactic forms and expressions with diverse attentional, regulatory, social, and referential functions. We conducted a distributional analysis of linguistic content types at the utterance level, and demonstrated that a wide range of content types in maternal speech can be distinguished by their distribution in sequences of utterances and by their patterns of co‐occurrence with infants’ actions. We observed free‐play sessions of 38 12‐month‐old infants and their mothers, annotated maternal utterances for 10 content types, and coded infants’ gaze target and object handling. Results show that all content types tended to repeat in consecutive utterances, whereas preferred transitions between different content types reflected sequences from attention‐capturing to directing and then descriptive utterances. Specific content types were associated with infants’ engagement with objects (declaratives, descriptions, object names), with disengagement from objects (talk about attention, infant's name), and with infants’ gaze at the mother (affirmations). We discuss how structured discourse might facilitate language acquisition by making speech input more predictable and/or by providing clues about high‐level form‐function mappings.

     
    more » « less