Naming influences 9-month-olds’ identification of discrete categories along a perceptual continuum

Mélanie Havy*, Sandra R. Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


A growing body of evidence documents that naming guides 9-month-old infants as they organize their visual experiences into categories. In particular, this evidence reveals that naming highlights categories when these are visually distinct. Here we advance this work in by introducing an anticipatory looking design to assess how naming influences infants’ categorization of objects that vary along a perceptual continuum. We introduced 9-month-old infants (n = 48) to continua of novel creature-like objects. During the learning phase, infants had an opportunity to observe that objects from one end of the perceptual continuum moved to the left and objects from the other end moved to the right. What varied was how the objects were named. Infants in theone-name condition heard the same novel noun applied to all objects along the continuum; those in the two-name condition heard one name for objects from one end of the continuum and a second name for objects at the other end. At test, all infants viewed new objects from the same continuum. At issue was whether infants would anticipate the side to which the test objects would move and whether their expectations varied as a function of naming condition. Infants in the one-name condition formed a single overarching category and therefore searched for new test objects at either location; those in the two-name condition discerned two categories and therefore correctly anticipated the likely location of the test objects, whether these were close to the poles or to the center of the continuum. This provides the first evidence that by 9 months, naming supports both the number of categories infants impose along a perceptual continuum and the clarity of the category boundaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-51
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Categorization
  • Lexical development
  • Perceptual continua
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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