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The role of gaze direction and mutual exclusivity in guiding 24-month-olds' word mappings


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Susan A. Graham, Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary AB T2N 1N4, Canada (e-mail:


In these studies, we examined how a default assumption about word meaning, the mutual exclusivity assumption and an intentional cue, gaze direction, interacted to guide 24-month-olds' object-word mappings. In Expt 1, when the experimenter's gaze was consistent with the mutual exclusivity assumption, novel word mappings were facilitated. When the experimenter's eye-gaze was in conflict with the mutual exclusivity cue, children demonstrated a tendency to rely on the mutual exclusivity assumption rather than follow the experimenter's gaze to map the label to the object. In Expt 2, children relied on the experimenter's gaze direction to successfully map both a first label to a novel object and a second label to a familiar object. Moreover, infants mapped second labels to familiar objects to the same degree that they mapped first labels to novel objects. These findings are discussed with regard to children's use of convergent and divergent cues in indirect word mapping contexts.

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