Prediction error boosts retention of novel words in adults but not in children

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How do we update our linguistic knowledge? In seven experiments, we asked whether error-driven learning can explain under what circumstances adults and children are more likely to store and retain a new word meaning. Participants were exposed to novel object labels in the context of more or less constraining sentences or visual contexts. Both two-to-four-year-olds (Mage = 38 months) and adults were strongly affected by expectations based on sentence constraint when choosing the referent of a new label. In addition, adults formed stronger memory traces for novel words that violated a stronger prior expectation. However, preschoolers’ memory was unaffected by the strength of their prior expectations. We conclude that the encoding of new word-object associations in memory is affected by prediction error in adults, but not in preschoolers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104650
Number of pages14
Early online date13 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Mar 2021


  • prediction error
  • mutual exclusivity
  • disconfirmed predictions
  • memory retention
  • word learning

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