Temperament Moderates Novel Word Learning at 15 Months

Document Type


Publication Date



Researchers have been reporting temperament-language correlations in infants for 10 years. However, in order to identify directions of effects between temperament and language, methodologies besides correlations need to be developed. The “competition attention paradigm” is an effort to sidestep some of the direction-of-effect issues by asking infants to learn novel words in the context of environmental distractions designed to tap into children’s temperaments. The purpose of the present study was to explore whether environmental distracters would differentially impact 15-month-olds’ novel wordlearning as a function of children’s temperamental profiles. Twenty-eight 15-month-olds were asked to learn 4 novel words. Novel word learning consisted of initially familiarizing children with two novel objects, and then mapping a novel label to only one of the novel objects five times. Novel word comprehension was tested by asking children to select the newly-labeled object from the pair of novel objects across 4 test trials. A remotely-controlled mechanical spider competed for children’s attention during object familiarization on two of the words. Half the children were distracted on the first two words, half were distracted on the last two. Temperament was assessed via parental reporting using the Early Child Behavior Questionnaire. The environmental distractions did not impact children’s word-learning directly. However, order of distraction presentation did [F(1, 23) = 7.16, p = .014], such that children who were distracted on the first two words performed higher overall than children who were distracted on the last two. Results involving temperament were complex, yielding many significant interaction effects with factors impacting children’s word-learning. For example, children high in fear demonstrated better word-learning in the absence of the spider than in its presence, whereas the spider had no effect on low-fear children, but only when learning the first word in the pair [F(1, 23) = 5.20, p = .032]. Other temperament factors found to impact novel word-learning included attentional focus, cuddliness, impulsivity, frustration, and high intensity pleasure. The results of the present investigation contribute to a growing body of research linking temperament to word learning. The competition attention paradigm suggest ways through which word learning may be impacted by dimensions of temperament. Although not presentable here due to space limitations, the pattern of results also points to attentional focus as playing a central moderating role over other dimensions of temperament. Finally, the present results are the first to link temperament to language acquisition at 15 months.


Vancouver, BC

This document is currently not available here.