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The Disambiguation Prediction Effect: Highlighting Label Novelty

Thu, March 21, 4:00 to 5:15pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

When asked to identify the referent of a novel label, young children tend to select a novel object rather than a familiar object (known as the disambiguation effect). Recent work by Merriman and colleagues suggests that a general metacognitive representation of this label-mapping tendency develops around age 4 years. The current experiment (N = 42) examined 3- and 4-year-olds’ performance in a metacognitive prediction task. Children completed eight disambiguation test trials that were presented as instances of a “game.” The final four trials differed from the first four in that right before the label was presented, children were asked to predict which object “was going to be right.” In previous research with this task (Henning & Merriman, 2017), only the older group consistently predicted that the novel object would be correct. In an attempt to highlight the novelty of the labels presented and possibly cue the children in on a commonality amongst all disambiguation problems, the current task differed in that before the disambiguation test trials, the children were told that the label would be “a word you have never heard before.” Performance on the very first prediction trial is of particular importance because it is the only one free from carryover effects. The majority of 4-year-olds selected correctly on the very first prediction trial (21 of 23) and this proportion was greater than chance, χ2 (1) = 15.70, p < .001. Surprisingly, the majority of 3-year-olds chose correctly on the first prediction trial (15 of 19) and this proportion was greater than chance, χ2 (1) = 6.37, p = .01. On this first prediction trial, all but two 4-year-olds and four 3-year-olds predicted correctly, two-tailed Fisher’s exact test p = .38. Comparing 3-year-olds’ correct first prediction trial performance in the current study (15 of 19) to that of the 3-year-olds’ first prediction trial performance found in Henning and Merriman (2017) (25 of 48), a significant performance difference was found and 3-year-olds in the current study seemed to receive a benefit from the highlighting of label novelty, χ2 (2, N = 67) = 4.08, p = .04. Despite this highlighting of label novelty, 4-year-old’s mean prediction performance across all prediction trials (M = 2.96) was significantly greater than 3-year-old’s (M = 2.21), t (40) = 2.03, p < .05, d = .63. The emphasis that is given to the novelty of the labels in the current task may facilitate the general metacognitive representation process necessary for children to succeed on the disambiguation prediction task, but the children still have difficulties maintaining this metacognitive representation or forming explicit representations. This finding provides further evidence that most children develop a metacognitive representation of their tendency to map novel labels onto novel rather than familiar objects around their fourth birthday.

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