Challenging the notion of a thematic preference in young children.

S. R. Waxman*, L. L. Namy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Many researchers have argued that early cognitive development is characterized by a conceptual preference for thematic over taxonomic relations. However, more recent research indicates that infants and toddlers may not favor thematic relations. To resolve this discrepancy, the conceptual preferences of children ranging from 2 to 4 years of age were examined, using a forced-choice task including a target (e.g., a carrot), a thematic alternative (e.g., a rabbit), and a taxonomic alternative (e.g., a tomato). The effects of age, experimenter's instructions, hierarchical level (basic vs. superordinate), and stimulus medium (pictures vs. objects) were examined systematically. Children revealed no pervasive preference for either thematic or taxonomic relations. This challenges the notion of a developmental shift in conceptual preferences and suggests a more continuous trajectory in early conceptual development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-567
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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