The roles of item repetition and position in infants’ abstract rule learning

Christina Schonberg, Gary F. Marcus, Scott P. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We asked whether 11- and 14- month-old infants’ abstract rule learning, an early form of analogical reasoning, is susceptible to processing constraints imposed by limits in attention and memory for sequence position. We examined 11- and 14- month-old infants’ learning and generalization of abstract repetition rules (“repetition anywhere,” Experiment 1 or “medial repetition,” Experiment 2) and ordering of specific items (edge positions, Experiment 3) in 4-item sequences. Infants were habituated to sequences containing repetition- and/or position-based structure and then tested with “familiar” vs. “novel” (random) sequences composed of new items. Eleven-month-olds (N = 40) failed to learn abstract repetition rules, but 14-month-olds (N = 40) learned rules under both conditions. In Experiment 3, 11-month-olds (N = 20) learned item edge positions in sequences identical to those in Experiment 2. We conclude that infant sequence learning is constrained by item position in similar ways as in adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-80
Number of pages17
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Abstract rule learning
  • Analogical reasoning
  • Infant learning
  • Perceptual primitives
  • Sequence learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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