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Infant Categorization of Path Relations During Dynamic Events


  • This research was supported by an NSF grant (SBR9615391) and an NIH grant (RO1HD050199) to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta M. Golinkoff. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions; we also thank Anthony Dick for help with producing graphics. We thank Meredith Meyer, Mandy Maguire, Natalie Sheridan, Meredith Jones, Amanda Brandone, Wendy Shallcross, Katrina Ferrara, Russell Richie, Aimee Stahl, and the numerous undergraduate and graduate students at the Temple University Infant Laboratory and the University of Delaware Infant Language Project for their assistance in data collection and data coding. Finally, we would also like to express our deepest gratitude to all of the families that participated in these studies.

concerning this article should be addressed to Shannon M. Pruden, Department of Psychology, Florida International University, DM 296A, 11200 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33199. Electronic mail may be sent to


Fundamental to amassing a lexicon of relational terms (i.e., verbs, prepositions) is the ability to abstract and categorize spatial relations such as a figure (e.g., boy) moving along a path (e.g., around the barn). Three studies examine how infants learn to categorize path over changes in manner, or how an action is performed (e.g., running vs. crawling). Experiment 1 (n = 60) finds that 10- to 12-month-old English-learning infants categorize a figure’s path. In Experiment 2 (n = 27) categorization is disrupted when the ground object is removed, suggesting the relation between figure and ground defines the path. Experiment 3 (n = 24) shows that language may be a mechanism guiding category formation. These studies suggest that English-learning infants can categorize path, a component lexicalized in the world’s languages.

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