Adults Use Distributional Statistics for Word Learning in a Conservative Way

Suzanne Aussems, Paul Vogt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This study examined how much adults rely on cross-situational information in word learning by comparing their gaze behavior in a word learning task with models of four learning strategies. We manipulated the input type of situations (consecutive vs. interleaved) and the co-occurrence frequencies between words and objects so that adult learners could infer correct word-object mappings based on cross-situational information. There are two key findings. First, an exposure-by-exposure analysis of gaze behavior during the word learning procedure revealed that most participants collected sufficient cross-situational information before they developed a preference for one particular word-object mapping, with consecutive as well as interleaved situations. Second, a classification approach in which individual gaze behavior was attributed to different word learning strategies showed that participants relied mostly on a Conservative cross-situational learning (XSL) strategy, compared to Associative XSL, Propose-but-Verify, and Random strategies. Adults relied on Conservative XSL when presented with consecutive and interleaved situations, but they shifted towards Associative XSL when presented with interleaved situations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIEEE Transactions on Cognitive and Developmental Systems
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2018

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