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Nine-month-old infants generalize object labels, but not object preferences across individuals


Annette M.E. Henderson, 10 Symonds St, HSB Building, Department of Psychology, The University of Auckland, 1142, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand; e-mail:


As with all culturally relevant human behaviours, words are meaningful because they are shared by the members of a community. This research investigates whether 9-month-old infants understand this fundamental fact about language. Experiment 1 examined whether infants who are trained on, and subsequently habituated to, a new word–referent link expect the link to be consistent across a second speaker. Experiment 2 examined whether 9-month-old infants distinguish between behaviours that are shared across individuals (i.e. words) from those that are not (i.e. object preferences). The present findings indicate that infants as young as 9 months of age expect new word–referent links, but not object preferences, to be consistent across individuals. Thus, by 9 months, infants have identified at least one of the aspects of human behaviour that is shared across individuals within a community. The implications for children’s acquisition of language and culture are discussed.