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Keywords:

  • infant perception;
  • preference method;
  • habituation–dishabituation method;
  • cross-modal learning;
  • familiarity effect;
  • novelty effect

Abstract

This paper considers possible problems researchers might face when interpreting the results of studies that employ variants of the preference procedure. Infants show a tendency to shift their preference from familiar to novel stimuli with increasing exposure to the familiar stimulus, a behaviour that is exploited by the habituation paradigm. This change in attentional preference with exposure leads us to suggest that researchers interested in infants' pre-experimental or spontaneous preferences should beware of the potentially confounding effects of exposing infants to familiarization trials prior to employing the preference procedure. The notion that infant attentional preference is dynamic also calls into question the use of the direction of post-familiarization preference per se when interpreting the knowledge or strategies available to infants. We look into the results of a cross-modal word learning study to show how the interpretation of results may be difficult when infants exhibit a significant preference in an unexpected direction. As a possible solution to this problem we propose that significant preferences in both directions should be sought at multiple intervals over time. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.