Developmental Science

Skip to Search

Skip to Navigation

Volume 22 Issue 2 (March 2019), Pages

The vocabulary spurt predicts the emergence of backward semantic inhibition in 18‐month‐old toddlers

Abstract The current study examines the relationship between 18‐month‐old toddlers’ vocabulary size and their ability to inhibit attention to no‐longer relevant information using the backward semantic inhibition paradigm. When adults switch attention from one semantic category to another, the former and no‐longer‐relevant semantic category becomes inhibited, and subsequent attention to an item that belongs to the inhibited semantic category is impaired. Here we demonstrate that 18‐month‐olds can inhibit attention to no‐longer relevant semantic categories, but only if they have a relatively large vocabulary. These findings suggest that an increased number of items (word knowledge) in the toddler lexical‐semantic system during the “vocabulary spurt” at 18‐months may be an important driving force behind the emergence of a semantic inhibitory mechanism. Possessing more words in the mental lexicon likely results in the formation of inhibitory links between words, which allow toddlers to select and deselect words and concepts more efficiently. Our findings highlight the role of vocabulary growth in the development of inhibitory processes in the emerging lexical‐semantic system.

Add This link

Bookmark and Share>