An explanatory heuristic gives rise to the belief that words are well suited for their referents

Shelbie L. Sutherland, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mappings between the words of a language and their meanings are arbitrary. There is, for example, nothing inherently dog-like about the word dog. And yet, building on prior evidence (e.g., Brook, 1970; Piaget, 1967), the six studies reported here (N=1062) suggest that both children and (at least to some extent) adults see a special "fit" between objects and their names, as if names were particularly suitable or appropriate for the objects they denote. These studies also provide evidence for a novel proposal concerning the source of these nominal fit beliefs. Specifically, beliefs about nominal fit may be a byproduct of the heuristic processes that people use to make sense of the world more generally (Cimpian & Salomon, 2014a). In sum, the present studies provide new insights into how people conceive of language and demonstrate that these conceptions are rooted in the processes that underlie broader explanatory reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)228-240
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Conceptual development
  • Explanation
  • Heuristics
  • Inherence heuristic
  • Language
  • Nominal fit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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