• verb learning;
  • word learning;
  • categorization;
  • habituation;
  • variability

Research demonstrates that within-category visual variability facilitates noun learning; however, the effect of visual variability on verb learning is unknown. We habituated 24-month-old children to a novel verb paired with an animated star-shaped actor. Across multiple trials, children saw either a single action from an action category (identical actions condition, for example, travelling while repeatedly changing into a circle shape) or multiple actions from that action category (variable actions condition, for example, travelling while changing into a circle shape, then a square shape, then a triangle shape). Four test trials followed habituation. One paired the habituated verb with a new action from the habituated category (e.g., ‘dacking’ + pentagon shape) and one with a completely novel action (e.g., ‘dacking’ + leg movement). The others paired a new verb with a new same-category action (e.g., ‘keefing’ + pentagon shape), or a completely novel category action (e.g., ‘keefing’ + leg movement). Although all children discriminated novel verb/action pairs, children in the identical actions condition discriminated trials that included the completely novel verb, while children in the variable actions condition discriminated the out-of-category action. These data suggest that – as in noun learning – visual variability affects verb learning and children's ability to form action categories.