Contextual Factors Affect Absent Reference Comprehension in 14-Month-Olds


  • I am grateful to Judy DeLoache for her support and valuable feedback at every step of this project. I am also grateful to Eric Turkheimer for his valuable statistical advice. I thank Megan Bloom, Vikram Jaswal, Angeline Lillard, and Lili Ma for helpful comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. I also thank the children who participated and their parents, Anne Raustol for help with data collection, and Themba Carr, Natalie Brito, Kathleen Hein, Heather Rudd, and Crystal Shyn for help with coding. This research was conducted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a doctoral degree at the University of Virginia, and it was presented at the biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, Salt Lake City, October 2003. This research was supported in part by NIH grant HD-27271-17 to Judy DeLoache.

concerning this article should be addressed to Patricia Ganea, Department of Psychology, Box 400400, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400. Electronic mail may be sent to


How do infants come to understand references to absent objects? 14-month-old infants first learned a name for a novel toy, which was then placed out of view. The infants who listened to a story mentioning the nonvisible object, looked, pointed, and searched for it more often than did infants who heard a story using a different name. Their behavior was affected by minor changes in context; they responded to the name of the out-of-view toy less often when it was not easily accessible or after a delay. These findings indicate that the development of absence reference comprehension depends on the interaction of representational and contextual factors.