Form over function
When asked to select a "comb" from a group of objects, two-year-olds typically chose a comb-shaped object, regardless of whether or not it had any teeth to comb at all. From such experimental results it can be concluded that very young children learn new words based on shapes and not on functions. This thesis is advanced in a report in the Journal of Memory and Language (January 14, 1998 issue). For adults, a comb is only a comb if it functions like a comb, reports Barbara Landau of the University of Delaware. "When naming objects, adults assume both shape and properties," Landau explained. “But young children are more likely to mistake a comb-shaped piece of writing paper for a comb than a toy rake or plastic fork. For her, form is paramount.
Landau was the first to coin the term shape-bias in the late 1980s, when she demonstrated that toddlers, when presented with nonsensical toys, quickly formed categories based on shape. The appellation of a fancy-named entity was quickly extended to similarly shaped objects-regardless of color, texture, or size. Since then, she has demonstrated that shape-influenced schema formation begins when children are two years "Image" and then increases with age. alt="
In her most recent study, she takes this theory one step further by investigating how an object's function influences naming by children and adults. Landau's research team studied a total of 260 participants, including 72 children between the ages of two and five. In three separate experiments, subjects were shown different groups of objects, each with a common form or function. For example, children were presented with a group of comb-like objects. These contained an ordinary blue plastic comb and several comb-shaped objects, which, however, did not have the function of a comb. At the same time, they were shown objects that could be used to comb a doll's hair, but which had no comb-like shape except for the tines.
After introducing the objects and explaining their function, the researchers started asking questions. For example, in one experiment, the children were told that "Barbie just woke up and needed to comb her hair." When a real comb could not be found, the children often began by playfully trying to comb the doll's hair with a toy rake or fork. However, when the researchers picked up individual objects and asked, "Is this a comb?" the children mostly still classified the comb-shaped objects as "combs" and not the objects they had just used to comb them.
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