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  • Ramscar Lab 20:32 on 12.13.2013 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Overregularization, , Prediction   

    The many curious cases of mouses 

    Error and expectation in language learning: The curious absence of ‘mouses’ in adult speech has just come out in Language, and opens, enticingly enough, with a quote from the Silver Blaze:

    Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

    Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime”.

    Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the nighttime”.

    Holmes: “That was the curious incident”.

    –Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    For more puzzles on learning, morphology, and negative evidence, we turn to the abstract:

    As children learn their mother tongues, they make systematic errors. For example, English speaking children regularly say “mouses” rather than “mice”. Because children’s errors aren’t explicitly corrected, it has been argued that children could never learn to make the transition to adult language based on the evidence available to them, and thus that learning even simple aspects of grammar is logically impossible without recourse to innate, language specific constraints. Here, we examine the role children’s expectations play in language learning, and present a model of plural noun learning that generates a surprising prediction: At a given point in learning, exposure to regular plurals (e.g. rats) can decrease children’s tendency to overregularize irregular plurals (e.g. mouses). Intriguingly, the model predicts that the same exposure should have the opposite effect earlier in learning. Consistent with this, we show that testing memory for items with regular plural labels contributes to a decrease in irregular plural overregularization in six-year-olds, but an increase in four-year-olds. Our model and results suggest that children’s overregularization errors both arise and resolve themselves as a consequence of the distribution of error in the linguistic environment, and that far from presenting a logical puzzle for learning, they are inevitable consequences of it.

  • Ramscar Lab 20:47 on 08.01.2013 Permalink
    Tags: Cognitive Maturation, , , Lexicon, Prediction   

    New Articles on Learning and Development 

    This summer, we have two new papers coming out on early learning and development.

    In Child Development, there’s an article on Dual routes to cognitive flexibility, which explores how three-year olds engage in flexible, goal-oriented behavior, in the absence of a mature prefrontal cortex.

    Cognitive control, the ability to align our actions with goals or context, is largely absent in children under four. How then are preschoolers able to tailor their behavior to best match the situation? Learning may provide an alternative route to context-sensitive responding. This study investigated this hypothesis in the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS), a classic test of cognitive control that most under-fours fail. A training intervention based on learning theoretic principles proved highly effective: Three-year-olds who learned about DCCS rules and game contexts in a card-labeling task, subsequently transferred this knowledge to sorting in the DCCS, passing at more than 3 times the rate of controls (N = 47). This surprising finding reveals much about the nature of the developing mind.

    Then over at Psychological Science, we make a case for why Children value informativity over logic in early word learning, and why that may confer distinct advantages over adult strategies.

    The question of how children learn the meanings of words has long puzzled philosophers and psychologists. As Quine famously pointed out, simply hearing a word in context reveals next to nothing about its meaning. How then do children learn to understand and use words correctly? Here, we show how learning theory can offer an elegant solution to this seemingly intractable puzzle in language acquisition. From it, we derived formal predictions about word learning in situations of Quinean ambiguity, and subsequently tested our predictions on toddlers, undergraduates, and developmental psychologists. The toddlers’ performance was consistent both with our predictions and with the workings of implicit mechanisms that can facilitate the learning of meaningful lexical systems. Adults adopted a markedly different and likely suboptimal strategy. These results suggest one explanation for why early word learning can appear baffling: Adult intuitions may be a poor source of insight into how children learn.

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