Young toddlers' word comprehension is flexible and efficient.

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Much of what is known about word recognition in toddlers comes from eyetracking studies. Here we show that the speed and facility with which children recognize words, as revealed in such studies, cannot be attributed to a task-specific, closed-set strategy; rather, children's gaze to referents of spoken nouns reflects successful search of the lexicon. Toddlers' spoken word comprehension was examined in the context of pictures that had two possible names (such as a cup of juice which could be called "cup" or "juice") and pictures that had only one likely name for toddlers (such as "apple"), using a visual world eye-tracking task and a picture-labeling task (n = 77, mean age, 21 months). Toddlers were just as fast and accurate in fixating named pictures with two likely names as pictures with one. If toddlers do name pictures to themselves, the name provides no apparent benefit in word recognition, because there is no cost to understanding an alternative lexical construal of the picture. In toddlers, as in adults, spoken words rapidly evoke their referents.





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Bergelson, Elika, and Daniel Swingley (2013). Young toddlers' word comprehension is flexible and efficient. PLoS One, 8(8). p. e73359. 10.1371/journal.pone.0073359 Retrieved from

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Elika Bergelson

Associate Research Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Dr. Bergelson's lab has moved to Harvard Psychology; she retains an unremunerated research appointment at Duke through mid-2024 for logistical reasons. She formerly accepted PhD applicants through the Developmental and Cog/CogNeuro areas of P&N and the CNAP program.

In my research, I try to understand the interplay of processes during language acquisition.
In particular, I am interested in how word learning relates to other aspects of learning language (e.g. speech sound acquisition, grammar/morphology learning), and social/cognitive development more broadly (e.g. joint attention processes) in the first few years of life.

I pursue these questions using three main approaches: in-lab measures of early comprehension and production (eye-tracking, looking-time, and in EEG studies in collaboration with the Woldorff lab), and at-home measures of infants' linguistic and social environment (as in the SEEDLingS project).

More recently the lab is branching out to look at a wider range of human populations and at infants who are blind or deaf/heard of hearing.

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