Words Not as Helpful to Children in Categorizing the World

When children assign labels to objects, they depend less on language than adults do. The finding could help guide parents in communicating with and teaching their children more effectively.

What's the Latest Development?


Children rely on language less than adults do when it comes to ordering the world, says new psychological research. In an experiment, two dolls with different physical features were given different labels, 'flurp' and 'jalet'. After some of the physical characteristics were changed to confuse participants as to which doll was which, researchers asked that the dolls be placed in either the 'flurp' or jalet' category. Adults relied more on the label already given to the dolls while children categorized them more according to physical characteristics. 

What's the Big Idea?

Conventional wisdom says that children use language just like adults in categorizing objects but scientists must now reconsider at what stage language becomes a dominant organizational tool. "It is only over the course of development that children begin to understand that words can reliably be used to label items," said Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the new study. Sloutsky believes the new research may eventually aid parents in communicating more effectively with their children and developing new teaching methods.

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