Predicting to learn: Toddlers learn words better from predictable events

Benitez, V. L. . & Saffran, J.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tracking the statistics of the environment allows learners to make predictions about what will happen next. The predictability of events has been shown to affect how learners attend to the statistical input (Kidd et al., 2012; Zhao et al., 2013). Here, we explore if predictability affects how children learn from that input. We presented 24- to 26-month-olds (N= 30) with a sequence of events where objects appeared from behind screens in 1 of 4 locations (sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4). After exposure to the sequence, children were presented with labels for objects at two different kinds of events. Objects were labeled at predicted events in the sequence (e.g., 1, 2, 3, *4; Predicted), or at unpredicted, incorrect, events in the sequence (e.g., 1, 2, 3, *2; Unpredicted). Importantly, the presentation of the label was gaze-contingent, so that all objects were labeled when children looked at them. Children were slower to orient to objects at Unpredicted than Predicted events, showing successful learning of the sequence. Using a looking-while-listening paradigm to test word learning, results showed that words were learned better for objects presented at Predicted than Unpredicted events. These findings demonstrate that predictability supports learning in young children.