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How shall a deceptive thing be called?*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

William E. Merriman*
Kent State University
Lorna H. Jarvis
Kent State University
John M. Marazita
Kent State University
Department of Psychology, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242, USA.


Thirty-six three-, four- and five-year-olds were asked to select labels for deceptive stimuli (e.g. for an eraser that looked like a pencil). Three types of labelling were investigated –simple (e.g. ‘is an eraser’); appearance-predicated (e.g. ‘looks like an eraser’); and reality-predicated (e.g. ‘is really and truly an eraser’). An age-related appearance-reality shift was observed in simple labelling (e.g. older children were more likely than younger ones to accept eraser and reject pencil as simple names for the pencil-eraser). This trend was robust over method and semantic domain, though weaker with object than with colour labels. As in previous research, older children were more likely than younger ones to map different appearance- than reality-predicated labels onto an item (e.g. to accept that the pencil-eraser looks like a pencil, but is really and truly an eraser); however, all age groups were reluctant to extend more than one name to a stimulus via a common predicate (e.g. to accept two reality-predicated labels for the same object). This one-label-per-predicate pattern was observed more frequently within reality than within appearance predicates; more frequently with colour than with object names, and with questions blocked by predicate than by name. It is argued that younger children maintained this pattern because of inflexible encoding, but that older ones did so because of better understanding of the appearance-reality distinction, greater reality dominance, and a Mutual Exclusivity bias.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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This work was supported by an NIH FIRST Award (R29 HD 25958) to the first author. We are grateful to the children and parents of the Akron area for their participation. The assistance of Laura Augustajtis, Denise Bellis, Andrea Culver, Chris Derry, Jennifer Engar, Lisa Heffelfinger, Rebecca Katzenmeyer, Angela Lavorata, Brenda Riccio, Paul Scott, Barbara Sherwood, and Charlene Walkulski with various aspects of the research was much appreciated. ‘In all your ways acknowledge Him…’ (Prov. 3:6).



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