Children's Fact but not Word Learning is Affected by Context Variability
Tippenhauer, Nicholas R.
There are conflicting accounts of how context variability affects children's word learning. In some instances, children show learning independent of context variability (e.g., Akhtar, 2005). There may also be cases where context variability promotes label learning (e.g., Goldenberg & Sandhofer, 2013a; Twomey, Ma, & Westermann, 2017). However, toddlers and preschoolers' word learning can also be disrupted by context changes (e.g., Goldenberg & Sandhofer, 2013a; Vlach & Sandhofer, 2011). Inconsistent findings in this literature could be the result of children's inability to suppress irrelevant context features and to focus on relevant input, both of which are factors that can contribute to the size of context effects on memory (Smith & Vela, 2001). Studies that demonstrated context dependent word learning may have relied on fairly demanding tasks, which may have prevented participants from dedicating cognitive resources to suppressing contexts or attending to inputs. We investigated context effects in word and fact learning using a design intended to reduce task load. Under these conditions, fact learning was affected by context variability, but word learning was not.