The blowfish effect: Children and adults use atypical exemplars to infer more narrow categories during word learning

Lauren L. Emberson, Nicole Loncar, Carolyn Mazzei, Isaac Treves, Adele E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Learners preferentially interpret novel nouns at the basic level ('dog') rather than at a more narrow level ('Labrador'). This 'basic-level bias' is mitigated by statistics: children and adults are more likely to interpret a novel noun at a more narrow label if they witness 'a suspicious coincidence' - the word applied to three exemplars of the same narrow category. Independent work has found that exemplar typicality influences learners' inferences and category learning. We bring these lines of work together to investigate whether the content (typicality) of a single exemplar affects the level of interpretation of words and whether an atypicality effect interacts with input statistics. Results demonstrate that both four- to five-year-olds and adults tend to assign a narrower interpretation to a word if it is exemplified by an atypical category member. This atypicality effect is roughly as strong as, and independent of, the suspicious coincidence effect, which is replicated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Child Language
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)

Keywords

  • atypicality
  • language
  • suspicious coincidence
  • word learning

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