"Shhh! We're Tryin' to Concentrate": Attention and Environmental Distracters in Novel Word Learning

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The authors' purpose in this study was to evaluate the role of attention, as a central dimension of temperament, in children's real-time acquisition of novel vocabulary. Environmental distractions were administered to 47 22-month-old children as they acquired novel vocabulary in a fast-mapping task. Two distraction conditions impeded novel word acquisition, but only 1 impeded attention allocation. Attention allocation was correlated with novel word acquisition under conditions of distraction, but not in their absence. Results suggest that attention allocation is especially important for word learning under conditions of distraction. Given that in their day-to-day lives children often encounter new words amid a host of environmental distractions, children with constitutionally fewer attentional resources, such as temperamentally difficult children, may be at a vocabulary-learning disadvantage.