Nouns Mark Category Relations: Toddlers' and Preschoolers' Word‐Learning Biases

Sandra R. Waxman*, Toby D. Kosowski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Recent research suggests that preschool children approach the task of word learning equipped with implicit biases that lead them to prefer some possible meanings over others. The noun‐category bias proposes that children favor category relations when interpreting the meaning of novel nouns. In the series of experiments reported here, we develop a stringent test of the noun‐category bias and reveal that it is present in children as young as 2 years of age. In each experiment, children participated in a 5‐item match‐to‐sample task. Children were presented with a target item (e.g., a cow) and 4 choices, 2 of which belonged to the same superordinate category as the target (e.g., a fox and a zebra) and 2 of which were thematically related to the target (e.g., milk and a born). In Experiment 1 we demonstrate that novel nouns prompt preschool children to attend to superordinate‐level category relations, even in the presence of multiple thematic alternatives. In Experiment 2, we ascertain that the bias is specific to nouns; novel adjectives do not highlight superordinate category relations. In Experiment 3, we demonstrate the noun‐category bias in 2‐year‐olds. The nature and utility of the noun‐category bias are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1461-1473
Number of pages13
JournalChild development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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