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Preschoolers’ Use of Talker Information in On-Line Comprehension


  • Thanks to Heather Pelton for running participants; to Carol Lee, Garrett Work, Shawn Walker, and Jordan Danly for providing voices; to Roger Levy for suggesting Experiment 5; and a big thank you to the children, parents, and preschool teachers and directors who made this research possible.

concerning this article should be addressed to Sarah C. Creel, University of California, San Diego, Department of Cognitive Science, 9500 Gilman Drive Mail Code 0515, La Jolla, CA 92093-0515. Electronic mail may be sent to


A crucial part of language development is learning how various social and contextual language-external factors constrain an utterance’s meaning. This learning process is poorly understood. Five experiments addressed one hundred thirty-one 3- to 5-year-old children’s use of one such socially relevant information source: talker characteristics. Participants learned 2 characters’ favorite colors; then, those characters asked participants to select colored shapes, as eye movements were tracked. Results suggest that by preschool, children use voice characteristics predictively to constrain a talker’s domain of reference, visually fixating the talker’s preferred color shapes. Indicating flexibility, children used talker information when the talker made a request for herself but not when she made a request for the other character. Children’s ease at using voice characteristics and possible developmental changes are discussed.