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What is the source of the mutual exclusivity bias whereby infants map novel labels onto novel objects? In an intermodal preferential looking task, we found that novel labels support 10-month-olds' attention to a novel object over a familiar object. In contrast, familiar labels and a neutral phrase gradually reduced attention to a novel object. Markman (1989, 1990) argued that infants must recall the name of a familiar object to exclude it as the referent of a novel label. We argue that 10-month-olds' attention is guided by the novelty of objects and labels rather than knowledge of the names for familiar objects. Mutual exclusivity, as a language-specific bias, might emerge from a more general constraint on attention and learning.

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Child Psychol

Publication Date





232 - 242


Attention, Choice Behavior, Exploratory Behavior, Female, Humans, Infant, Male, Photic Stimulation, Verbal Learning