Creature Features: Preschoolers Learn about Novel Creatures from Verbal Descriptions
Children frequently learn about absent objects from verbal descriptions in everyday life. 3- and 4-year-olds were read verbal descriptions of novel creatures with novel labels and were then asked to choose the described creature from a pair of items. In these verbal descriptions, feature information (color, living environment, physical characteristic) came before or after a novel label, or the novel label was replaced by a pronoun. Children were asked to find the described item. Older children were better able to do so than younger children. Surprisingly, when the label was removed, children were best able to locate the described item. Age in months and PPVT scores were found to independently predict a child’s ability to identify the referent. These findings suggest that children can use verbal descriptions to form representations of absent objects. Furthermore, language ability, specifically vocabulary size, is helpful when identifying referents from verbal descriptions.