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Abstract

Two experiments demonstrate that 14- to 18-month-old toddlers can adaptively change how they categorize a set of objects within a single session, and that this ability is related to vocabulary size. In both experiments, toddlers were presented with a sequential touching task with objects that could be categorized either according to some perceptually salient dimension corresponding to a taxonomic distinction (e.g. animals vs. vehicles) or to some less obvious dimension (e.g. rigid vs. deformable). In each experiment, children with larger productive vocabularies responded to both dimensions, showing evidence of sensitivity to each way of categorizing the items. Children with smaller productive vocabularies attended only to the taxonomically related categorical grouping. These experiments confirm that toddlers can adaptively shift the basis of their categorization and highlight the dynamic interaction between the child and the current task in early categorization.