The role of colour labels in mediating toddler visual attention

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Toddlers, children and adults will spontaneously attend to a semantically- or perceptually-related object when a named target is absent from the visual scene: Upon hearing “strawberry”, they will orient to a red plate rather than a yellow one. We examine the role that knowledge of feature labels plays in mediating visual attention to unnamed features. For example, does knowing the word “red”, facilitate attending to red objects, though the label is not uttered? We show that toddlers systematically fixate a colour-related object, if and only if they know the name of the colour associated with the named object and the perceptually-related object. These findings suggest that knowledge of perceptual feature labels can play a central role in highlighting salient similarities between objects, both present and absent in the toddler’s visual field. We discuss the implications and limitations of these findings beyond the realm of recognition of colour similarities between objects.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-170
Number of pages12
Early online date18 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

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