Speech and social cues combine at discourse boundaries to promote word learning

Crystal Lee, Casey Lew-Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Social cues, such as eye gaze and referential gestures, have been shown to promote word learning in children, usually by exposing children to a label-object association with vs. without a social cue. However, social cues are not always so cleanly linked to referents in the world. Instead, label-object associations occur imperfectly across time in a discourse. We conducted an experiment to examine how labels and eye gaze interactively support 4- and 5-year-olds’ word learning during exposures to a series of brief discourse topics. We found that children learned novel words better when social cues and word labels jointly marked the beginning or end of a discourse topic, but not when they were misaligned. The findings indicate that young learners can use social cues to inform their understanding of word meanings across successive utterances, not just within single labeling events. We discuss how social cues may support children's ability to find where discourse topics begin and end within their ongoing speech input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101254
JournalCognitive Development
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • Discourse
  • Eye gaze
  • Social cues
  • Word learning


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