Seeking new words: Active word learning in infants and children
This event will be held online.
Young word learners are faced with the immensely difficult task of determining the meaning of thousands of new words based on ambiguous input. How do children learn word meanings given limited and incomplete information? One way that children might confront this task is by intervening in their environment in ways that support learning.

Throughout development, children are more than simply passive absorbers of information – they actively construct their own learning environment. This ability could have important consequences for how children simplify the problem of learning new word meanings.

I will present the results from 3 studies investigating how infants and children seek out new information during word learning. In part 1, I will present evidence from children (3-8 years of age) and adults that learners will systematically seek to reduce ambiguity about novel object-label associations. In part 2, I will discuss experimental results demonstrating that children (3-5 years of age) are motivated to sample more informative object-label associations and make selections that are tuned to their past experience. In the final part of the talk, I will present the results from two lines of work asking whether even infants (aged 17 to 21 months) systematically sample information about novel words.

In order to study infants’ sampling behaviour during word learning, we developed novel gaze-contingent eye-tracking methods that allowed infants to trigger labelling events on a screen. Preliminary findings from these studies provide mixed or inconclusive evidence regarding infants’ early information-seeking strategies. Overall, we find evidence that children systematically sample words that support gaining new information, and that the tendency to reduce ambiguity during word learning becomes more robust over development. I will end the talk by highlighting some ongoing projects that take a large-scale, collaborative approach to understanding questions about infants’ early information-seeking preferences and children’s developing word knowledge.
Date: 24 January 2022, 15:00 (Monday, 2nd week, Hilary 2022)
Venue: Venue to be announced
Speaker: Martin Zettersten (Princeton University)
Organising department: Department of Experimental Psychology
Organiser: Emma James
Organiser contact email address:
Host: Emma James
Part of: Language and Development Seminar Series
Booking required?: Required
Booking url:
Audience: Members of the University only
Editor: Halley Cohen