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How Symbolic Experience Shapes Children's Symbolic Flexibility


  • Emily E. Thom,

    Corresponding author
    1. California State University, Northridge
    • Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Emily E. Thom, Department of Child and Adolescent Development, California State University Northridge, 280E Sequoia Hall, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330. Electronic mail may be sent to

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  • Catherine M. Sandhofer

    1. University of California, Los Angeles
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  • The authors would like to thank Elizabeth Abate, Melissa Arce, Whitney Brammer, Natalie Carlos, Aimee Dodge, Megan Galligan, Ashley Evans, Angela Lopez, Jessica McNally, Jennifer Wong, and Sabrina Zakutinsky for their help in completing this project.


The current experiments asked whether children with dual-symbolic experience (e.g., unimodal bilingual and bimodal) develop a preference for words like monolingual children (Namy & Waxman, 1998). In Experiment 1, ninety-five 18- and 24-month-olds, with monolingual, unimodal bilingual, or bimodal symbolic experience, were tested in their willingness to treat digitized sounds as referents. In Experiment 2, forty-seven 24-month-olds, with the same types of symbolic experience, were tested in their willingness to treat novel words as referents. Monolingual children performed in ways indicative of a growing preference for words, whereas children with dual-symbolic experience performed in ways indicative of consistency in symbolic flexibility over time. Results suggest that the developmental trajectory of children's symbolic flexibility might depend on their symbolic experience.

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