Becoming Organized: How Simple Learning Mechanisms may Shape the Development of Rich Semantic Knowledge

AbstractWith development, we acquire rich body of knowledge about the world in which concepts denoted by words (e.g., juicy, apple, and pear) are connected by meaningful, semantic links (e.g., apples and pears are similar, and can both be juicy). One potentially powerful driver of this development is sensitivity to regularities with which words co-occur in language. Specifically, language is rich regularities that can support: (1) Associative semantic links between words that directly co-occur together (e.g., juicy-apple), and (2) Taxonomic semantic links between words similar in meaning that share patterns of direct co-occurrence (e.g., apple and pear both co-occur with juicy). Here, we investigated the development of abilities to form semantic links from these regularities. Results revealed that both children and adults formed direct co-occurrence-based links, whereas only adults formed shared co-occurrence based links. We discuss how these results may provide key insight into how semantic organization develops.

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