Susan C Bobb, Falk Huettig, and Nivedita Mani (2016)

Predicting visual information during sentence processing: Toddlers activate an object’s shape before it is mentioned

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 151:51-64.

We examined the contents of language-mediated prediction in toddlers by investigating the extent to which toddlers are sensitive to visual shape representations of upcoming words. Previous studies with adults suggest limits to the degree to which information about the visual form of a referent is predicted during language comprehension in low constraint sentences. Toddlers (30-month-olds) heard either contextually constraining sentences or contextually neutral sentences as they viewed images that were either identical or shape-related to the heard target label. We observed that toddlers activate shape information of upcoming linguistic input in contextually constraining semantic contexts; hearing a sentence context that was predictive of the target word activated perceptual information that subsequently influenced visual attention toward shape-related targets. Our findings suggest that visual shape is central to predictive language processing in toddlers.

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