Continuous developmental change explains discontinuities in word learning - Archive ouverte HAL Access content directly
Journal Articles Developmental Science Year : 2021

Continuous developmental change explains discontinuities in word learning


Cognitive development is often characterized in terms of discontinuities, but these discontinuities can sometimes be apparent rather than actual and can arise from continuous developmental change. To explore this idea, we use as a case study the finding by Stager and Werker (1997) that children's early ability to distinguish similar sounds does not automatically translate into word learning skills. Early explanations proposed that children may not be able to encode subtle phonetic contrasts when learning novel word meanings, thus suggesting a discontinuous/stage-like pattern of development. However, later work has revealed (e.g., through using more precise testing methods) that children do encode such contrasts, thus favoring a continuous pattern of development. Here we propose a probabilistic model that represents word knowledge in a graded fashion and characterizes developmental change as improvement in the precision of this graded knowledge. Our model explained previous findings in the literature and provided a new prediction-the referents' visual similarity modulates word learning accuracy. The models' predictions were corroborated by human data collected from both preschool children and adults. The broader impact of this work is to show that computational models, such as ours, can help us explore the extent to which episodes of cognitive development that are typically thought of as discontinuities may emerge from simpler, continuous mechanisms.
Fichier principal
Vignette du fichier
cogsci (1).pdf (658.43 Ko) Télécharger le fichier
Origin : Files produced by the author(s)

Dates and versions

hal-03191088 , version 1 (06-04-2021)


  • HAL Id : hal-03191088 , version 1


Abdellah Fourtassi, Sophie Regan, Michael C Frank. Continuous developmental change explains discontinuities in word learning. Developmental Science, 2021. ⟨hal-03191088⟩
42 View
55 Download


Gmail Facebook Twitter LinkedIn More