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Curr Biol. 2018 Apr 2;28(7):1132-1136.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.042. Epub 2018 Mar 15.

Cross-Situational Learning Is Supported by Propose-but-Verify Hypothesis Testing.

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School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9QH, UK; Department of Psychology, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK. Electronic address:
School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9QH, UK.
School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9QH, UK. Electronic address:


When we encounter a new word, there are often multiple objects that the word might refer to [1]. Nonetheless, because names for concrete nouns are constant, we are able to learn them across successive encounters [2, 3]. This form of "cross-situational" learning may result from either associative mechanisms that gradually accumulate evidence for each word-object association [4, 5] or rapid propose-but-verify (PbV) mechanisms where only one hypothesized referent is stored for each word, which is either subsequently verified or rejected [6, 7]. Using model-based representation similarity analyses of fMRI data acquired during learning, we find evidence for learning mediated by a PbV mechanism. This learning may be underpinned by rapid pattern-separation processes in the hippocampus. Our findings shed light on the psychological and neural processes that support word learning, suggesting that adults rely on their episodic memory to track a limited number of word-object associations.


computational modeling; cross-situational learning; fMRI; hippocampus

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