Nivedita Mani and Kim Plunkett (2011)

Phonological priming and cohort effects in toddlers

Cognition, 121(2):196-206.

Investigated the cognitive processes involved in 24-month-old toddler word recognition by examining how words are represented in a toddler's mind, focusing on whether the phonological properties of words are important for their organization in the toddler lexicon in 2 experiments. A digital video scoring system was used in Experiment 1 to assess visual events while 32 toddlers (aged 23-24 months) were presented with the same experiment used by N. Mani and K. Plunkett (2010) in which phonologically related and unrelated primes were used to see whether the phonological relations between prime target pairs would influence children's target recognition. Despite showing target recognition in both conditions, the toddlers looked longer at the target following unrelated primed trials compared to related primed trials. The authors suggest that this pattern of responding is indicative of lexical-level interference effects influencing target responding in 24-month-olds. In Experiment 2 the only procedural difference was that unprimed baseline trials were included in which 28 toddlers (aged 22-25 months) were presented with a cross in the middle of the screen in place of a prime image followed by the simultaneous presentation of target-distractor images and subsequent naming of the target image. While results added support to the findings of Experiment 1, it was also seen that large cohort trials also resulted in reduced target looking compared to small target cohort trials, indicating that phonological priming is not a necessary condition for the observed lexical level cohort effects. It is concluded that by 24 months of age, children's responding in word recognition tasks approximates to adult-like performance in that words begin to cluster together in the toddler lexicon based on their phonological properties so that word recognition involves the activation and processing of phonologically related words.