Directors of the School: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Directors of the Course: Sidney Strauss and Elena Pasquinelli
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Learning about object kinds from ostensive infant-directed communication
Children can fast-map knowledge about object kinds from generic statements. However, young infants cannot utilize such complex linguistic expressions. I present a set of studies that show that infants attempt to interpret ostensive non-verbal communication as generic expressions, aiding them to acquire knowledge about an object kind in one-shot interaction. Eighteen-month-old infants were tested on how likely they were to extend a dispositional property demonstrated on a single exemplar to other objects of the same kind. Their persistence in eliciting the property from a novel exemplar was measured after they had been presented with a counterevidence (an object without the demonstrated property). When the demonstration was ostensive, they learned the property as generic and persisted in eliciting it, despite the counter-evidence. However, this effect was only observed when kind labels allowed infants to identify the novel exemplars as members of the same kind as the demonstration object. Together with other findings, these results provide evidence that non-linguistic ostensive referential acts can aid young infants in forming object kind representations and to fast-map generic knowledge onto them.