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Dev Sci. 2018 Sep;21(5):e12656. doi: 10.1111/desc.12656. Epub 2018 Mar 15.

Gesture for generalization: gesture facilitates flexible learning of words for actions on objects.

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Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Department of Psychology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.


Verb learning is difficult for children (Gentner, ), partially because children have a bias to associate a novel verb not only with the action it represents, but also with the object on which it is learned (Kersten & Smith, ). Here we investigate how well 4- and 5-year-old children (N = 48) generalize novel verbs for actions on objects after doing or seeing the action (e.g., twisting a knob on an object) or after doing or seeing a gesture for the action (e.g., twisting in the air near an object). We find not only that children generalize more effectively through gesture experience, but also that this ability to generalize persists after a 24-hour delay.


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