The role of association in early word-learning

Gary F. Marcus, Keith J. Fernandes, Scott P. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Word-learning likely involves a multiplicity of components, some domain-general, others domain-specific. Against the background of recent studies that suggest that word-learning is domain-specific, we investigated the associative component of word-learning. Sevenand 14-month-old infants viewed a pair of events in which a monkey or a truck moved back and forth, accompanied by a sung syllable or a tone, matched for pitch. Following habituation, infants were presented with displays in which the visual-auditory pairings were preserved or switched, and looked longer at the "switch" events when exposure time was sufficient to learn the intermodal association. At 7 months, performance on speech and tones conditions was statistically identical; at 14 months, infants had begun to favor speech. Thus, the associative component of word-learning does not appear (in contrast to rule-learning, Marcus et al., 2007) to initially privilege speech.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 283
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAUG
StatePublished - 2012


  • Association
  • Cognitive development
  • Word-learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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