Mother-child conversations about pictures and objects: Referring to categories and individuals

Susan A. Gelman*, Robert J. Chesnick, Sandra R. Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


The distinction between individuals (e.g., Rin-Tin-Tin) and categories (e.g., dogs) is fundamental in human thought. Two studies examined factors that influence when 2- to 3-year-old children and adults focus on individuals versus categories. Mother-child dyads were presented with pictures and toys (e.g., a picture of a boat or a toy boat). Conversations were coded for references to generic categories ("Dogs are furry"), ostensive labels ("This is a dog"), or specific individuals ("Lassie"). Overall, pictures generated more talk about categories; objects generated more talk about individuals. However, when objects could not be manipulated, speakers expressed relatively more category references. These results suggest that representations (in the form of pictures or objects-on-display) encourage young children and parents alike to think about categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1129-1143
Number of pages15
JournalChild development
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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