Infants' Learning of Novel Words in a Stochastic Environment

Athena Vouloumanos, Janet F. Werker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In everyday word learning words are only sometimes heard in the presence of their referent, making the acquisition of novel words a particularly challenging task. The current study investigated whether children (18-month-olds who are novice word learners) can track the statistics of co-occurrence between words and objects to learn novel mappings in a stochastic environment. Infants were briefly trained on novel word-novel object pairs with variable degrees of co-occurrence: Words were either paired reliably with 1 referent or stochastically paired with 2 different referents with varying probabilities. Infants were sensitive to the co-occurrence statistics between words and referents, tracking not just the strongest available contingency but also low-frequency information. The statistical strength of the word-referent mapping may also modulate real-time online lexical processing in infants. Infants are thus able to track stochastic relationships between words and referents in the process of learning novel words.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1611-1617
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • language acquisition
  • online processing
  • statistical learning
  • stochastic environment
  • word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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