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Dev Psychol. 2013 Jan;49(1):138-45. doi: 10.1037/a0027903. Epub 2012 Mar 26.

When familiar is not better: 12-month-old infants respond to talk about absent objects.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College #552, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37203, USA.


Three experiments that demonstrate a novel constraint on infants' language skills are described. Across the experiments it is shown that as babies near their 1st birthday, their ability to respond to talk about an absent object is influenced by a referent's spatiotemporal history: familiarizing infants with an object in 1 or several nontest locations before the study interferes with their ability to respond to talk about the object when it is out of view. Familiarity with an object may not always strengthen infants' object representations and therefore facilitate their ability to appropriately react to the mention of absent objects. On the contrary, early in development, irrelevant information about prior location may be bound to representations of familiar objects and thus interfere with infants' ability to respond to talk about absent things.

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