Statistics learned are statistics forgotten: The developing ability to retain and retrieve cross-situational statistical learning

Vlach, H. . & DeBrock, C.

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Children are able to resolve the referential ambiguity of learning new words by tracking co-occurrence probabilities across moments in time, a behavior termed cross-situational word learning (CSWL). Although we know that children can use co-occurrence data to map words to referents, the literature has a striking limitation: children?s CSWL has only been assessed at an immediate test. Consequently, we did not know whether children can use co-occurrence data to infer word meanings over time. The current research examined whether children can retain and retrieve words after a 5-minute delay, and whether children?s age and individual cognitive abilities contribute to their CSWL performance. The results revealed that children were not able to retain and retrieve co-occurrence statistics until the end of early childhood. Moreover, children?s memory abilities and the timing of learning events were the two key factors that contributed to children?s performance. These findings suggest that more research is needed to understand the processes that support children?s statistical learning after encoding. The talk will conclude with a unifying model for future research on children?s statistical learning: the big data problem in language development.