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Child Dev. 2012 Nov;83(6):2057-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01827.x. Epub 2012 Aug 7.

Learning about tool categories via eavesdropping.

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Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Prior research has found that toddlers will form enduring artifact categories after direct exposure to an adult using a novel tool. Four studies explored whether 2- (N=48) and 3-year-olds (N=32) demonstrate this same capacity when learning by eavesdropping. After surreptitiously observing an adult use 1 of 2 artifacts to operate a bell via a monitor, 3-year-olds returned to the demonstrated kind of tool as "for" the task and avoided it for an alternative task over 2 days. Two-year-olds performed similarly after eavesdropping on someone with more discriminable artifacts via the method of a window rather than a monitor. These results demonstrate that toddlers can acquire enduring artifact categories after less than 40 s of surreptitious observation.

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