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Infants' reliance on shape to generalize novel labels to animate and inanimate objects



Two experiments were conducted to examine infants' reliance on object shape versus colour for word generalization to animate and inanimate objects. A total of seventy-three infants aged 1;4 to 1;10 were taught labels for either novel vehicles or novel animals using a preferential looking procedure (Experiment 1) or an interactive procedure (Experiment 2). The results of both experiments indicated that infants limited their word generalization to those exemplars that shared shape similarity with the original referent for both animate and inanimate objects. These findings indicate that a strong reliance on shape is present earlier than previously shown. In Experiment 2, reliance on shape to generalize novel words did not vary as a function of vocabulary size. Thus reliance on shape versus colour for word generalization does not appear to increase in strength as a function of word learning during late infancy.


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Address for correspondence: S. A. Graham, Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada. e-mail:


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This research was supported by an operating grant from NSERC of Canada and a Simon Fraser University/SSHRC small research grant awarded to the first author and operating grants from NSERC and the Fonds FCAR to the second author. The first author was also supported by a Centennial NSERC predoctoral fellowship and a predoctoral fellowship from the Fonds FCAR while conducting Experiment 1. We would like to thank the parents and infants for their enthusiastic participation in these studies. We also thank Dionne Angman, Barbara Levine, Brenda Kenyon, George Leong, Ruth Miller, Sherrill Sinclair and Scott Taylor for their assistance with this research. Christopher Sears and two anonymous reviewers provided us with invaluable comments on a previous version of this manuscript. Portions of the data from Experiment 1 were presented at the International Conference on Infant Studies, Paris, France in June 1994.



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