This study evaluated two explanations for how learning of novel adjectives is facilitated when all the objects are from the same category (e.g., exemplar and testing objects are all CUPS) and the object category is a known to the children. One explanation (the category knowledge account) focuses on early knowledge of syntax–meaning correspondence, and another (the attentional account) focuses on the role of repeated perceptual properties. The first account presumes implicit understanding that all the objects belong to the same category, and the second account presumes only that redundant perceptual experiences minimize distraction from irrelevant features and thus guide children’s attention directly to the correct item. The present study tests the two accounts by documenting moment-to-moment attention allocation (e.g., looking at experimenter’s face, exemplar object, target object) during a novel adjective learning task with 50 3-year-olds. The results suggest that children’s attention was guided directly to the correct item during the adjective mapping and that such direct attention allocation to the correct item predicted children’s adjective mapping performance. Results are discussed in relation to their implication for children’s active looking as the determinant of process for mapping new words to their meanings.
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