Beyond associations: Pre-schoolers' predictions are based on linguistic structure

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Are children’s predictive eye movements based on grammatical knowledge or semantic associations? Three-to-five year olds and adults heard sentences containing verbs that were strongly associated with particular agents and patients (Predictive verbs, e.g., Pingu will arrest…, associated with policeman and robber) or verbs with no strong association (Non-Predictive verbs, Pingu will touch…). We measured how hearing the verb affected participants’ anticipatory eye-movements to an agent (policeman), which was semantically associated but not structurally predictable, and to a patient (robber), which was both associated and structurally predictable. We also manipulated whether sentences continued with a simple noun phrase (“…the robber”, Short), or a longer one (“…the noisy and fun robber”, Long). Children, like adults, were more likely to look at patients (but not agents) after a Predictive verb, even in Short contexts. This indicates that pre-schoolers can rapidly generate predictions using their growing lexico-syntactic knowledge, beyond their knowledge of semantic associations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2015
EventBoston University Conference on Language Development - Boston, United States
Duration: 13 Nov 201515 Nov 2015


ConferenceBoston University Conference on Language Development
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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