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Attention switching is a crucial ability required in everyday life, from toddlerhood to adulthood. In adults, shifting attention from one word (e.g., dog) to another (e.g., sea) results in backward semantic inhibition, that is, the inhibition of the initial word ( dog). In this study, we used the preferential-looking paradigm to examine whether attention switching is accompanied by backward semantic inhibition in toddlers. We found that 24-month-olds can indeed refocus their attention to a new item by selectively inhibiting attention to the old item. The consequence of backward inhibition is that subsequent attention to a word semantically related to the old item is impaired. These findings have important implications for understanding the underlying mechanism of backward semantic inhibition and the development of lexical-semantic inhibition in early childhood.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Sci

Publication Date





1312 - 1320


attention switching, backward inhibition, eye tracking, infant, semantics, Acoustic Stimulation, Attention, Child, Preschool, Female, Humans, Infant, Male, Reactive Inhibition, Semantics, Visual Perception