Competitive Processes in Cross-Situational Word Learning


Correspondence should be sent to Daniel Yurovsky, Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall, Building 01-420, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305. E-mail:


Cross-situational word learning, like any statistical learning problem, involves tracking the regularities in the environment. However, the information that learners pick up from these regularities is dependent on their learning mechanism. This article investigates the role of one type of mechanism in statistical word learning: competition. Competitive mechanisms would allow learners to find the signal in noisy input and would help to explain the speed with which learners succeed in statistical learning tasks. Because cross-situational word learning provides information at multiple scales—both within and across trials/situations—learners could implement competition at either or both of these scales. A series of four experiments demonstrate that cross-situational learning involves competition at both levels of scale, and that these mechanisms interact to support rapid learning. The impact of both of these mechanisms is considered from the perspective of a process-level understanding of cross-situational learning.