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Generics license 30-month-olds' inferences about the atypical properties of novel kinds

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Graham, S.A., Gelman, S., & Clarke, J. (2016). Generics license 30-month-olds' inferences about the atypical properties of novel kinds. Developmental Psychology, 52, 1353-1362.

Abstract

We examined whether the distinction between generic and nongeneric language provides toddlers with a rapid and efficient means to learn about kinds. In Experiment 1, we examined 30-month-olds' willingness to extend atypical properties to members of an unfamiliar category when the properties were introduced in 1 of 3 ways: (a) using a generic noun phrase ("Blicks drink ketchup"); (b) using a nongeneric noun phrase ("These blicks drink ketchup"); and (c) using an attentional phrase ("Look at this"). Hearing a generic noun phrase boosted toddlers' extension of properties to both the model exemplars and to novel members of the same category, relative to when a property had been introduced with a nongeneric noun phrase or an attentional phrase. In Experiment 2, properties were introduced with a generic noun phrase, and toddlers extended novel properties to members of the same-category, but not to an out-of-category object. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that generics highlight the stability of a feature and foster generalization of the property to novel within-category exemplars. 

Link to full article here.