The effects of delay (with and without a nap) on verb meaning in 2-year-olds
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Sleep has been associated with learning flexibility and memory enhancement in several domains, yet little evidence exists on the effects of sleep in early language learning. In our study, we asked whether two-year-old toddlers benefit from sleep when learning the meaning of words. We adapted a paradigm in which two-year-olds were taught novel words, specifically verbs, and were asked to map them to meaning (Arunachalam & Waxman, 2010). Toddlers were first familiarized with a novel verb used in transitive sentences (i.e., “Mary is going to moop the cat”). Next, we assessed whether they mapped the novel verb to a meaning by testing them twice, once immediately after familiarization, and once after a delay of 3-6 hours, during which toddlers either slept or remained awake. At test, they viewed two candidate referents for the novel verb: a causative scene and a synchronous scene. Note that causative events can be described with transitive verbs, but synchronous events cannot. Toddlers’ task was to assign the novel verb to one of the potential visual referents. If sleep promotes language learning, then toddlers will perform better at the second test if they had slept during the delay than if they had not. Specifically, we predicted that toddlers who slept would look more to the causative scene than those who remained awake. Results revealed that toddlers in both delay conditions and even at both tests were not above chance at choosing the causative scene. These results present an interesting paradigm that could be applied to other sleep research studies.
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