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Focusing on the relation: fewer exemplars facilitate children's initial verb learning and extension


Address for correspondence: Mandy J. Maguire, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas, Dallas/Callier Center, 1966 Inwood Dr., Dallas, TX 75235, USA; e-mail:


One of the most prominent theories for why children struggle to learn verbs is that verb learning requires the abstraction of relations between an object and its action (Gentner, 2003). Two hypotheses suggest how children extract relations to extend a novel verb: (1) seeing many different exemplars allows children to detect the invariant relation between actions in different contexts (Gentner, 2003), and (2) repetition of fewer exemplars allows children to move beyond the entities involved to extract the relation (Kersten & Smith, 2002). We tested inline image- and 3-year-olds’ ability to extend a novel verb after viewing the repetition of one novel actor compared to four different actors performing a novel action. Both ages were better at learning and extending a novel verb to a novel actor when shown only one actor rather than four different actors. These results indicate that during initial verb learning less information is more effective.