No evidence for language benefits in infant relational learning

Erin M. Anderson*, Yin Juei Chang, Susan Hespos, Dedre Gentner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Recent studies have found that infants show relational learning in the first year. Like older children, they can abstract relations such as same or different across a series of exemplars. For older children, language has a major impact on relational learning: labeling a shared relation facilitates learning, while labeling component objects can disrupt learning. Here we ask: Does language influence relational learning at 12 months? Experiment 1 (n = 64) examined the influence of a relational label on learning. Prior to the study, the infants saw three pairs of objects, all labeled “These are same” or “These are different”. Experiment 2 (n = 48) examined the influence of object labels prior to the study, with three objects labeled (e.g., “This is a cup, this is a tower.”). We compared the present results with those of Ferry et al. (2015), where infants abstracted same and different relations after undergoing a similar paradigm without prior labels. If the effects of language mirror those in older children, we would expect that infants given relational labels (Experiment 1) will be helped in abstracting same and different compared to infants not given labels and that infants given object labels (Experiment 2) will be hindered relative to those not given labels. We found no evidence for either prediction. In Experiment 1, infants who had heard relational labels did not benefit compared to infants who had received no labels (Ferry et al., 2015). In Experiment 2, infants who had heard object labels showed the same patterns as those in Ferry et al. (2015), suggesting that object labels had no effect. This finding is important because it highlights a key difference between the relational learning abilities of infants and those seen in older children, pointing to a protracted process by which language and relational learning become entwined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101666
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Analogy
  • Infant cognition
  • Language
  • Relational learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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