Semantic priming supports infants’ ability to learn names of unseen objects

Elena Luchkina*, Sandra R. Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Human language permits us to call to mind objects, events, and ideas that we cannot witness directly. This capacity rests upon abstract verbal reference: the appreciation that words are linked to mental representations that can be established, retrieved and modified, even when the entities to which a word refers is perceptually unavailable. Although establishing verbal reference is a pivotal achievement, questions concerning its developmental origins remain. To address this gap, we investigate infants’ ability to establish a representation of an object, hidden from view, from language input alone. In two experiments, 15-month-olds (N = 72) and 12-month-olds (N = 72) watch as an actor names three familiar, visible objects; she then provides a novel name for a fourth, hidden fully from infants’ view. In the Semantic Priming condition, the visible familiar objects all belong to the same semantic neighborhood (e.g., apple, banana, orange). In the No Priming condition, the objects are drawn from different semantic neighborhoods (e.g., apple, shoe, car). At test infants view two objects. If infants can use the naming information alone to identify the likely referent, then infants in the Semantic Priming, but not in the No Priming condition, will successfully infer the referent of the fourth (hidden) object. Brief summary of results here. Implications for the development of abstract verbal reference will be discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0244968
JournalPloS one
Issue number1 January
StatePublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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