Predictable Events Enhance Word Learning in Toddlers

Viridiana Benitez, Jenny R. Saffran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Sensitivity to the predictability of the environment supports young children's learning in many domains [1, 2], including language [3–6]; perception [7, 8]; and the processing of objects, space, and time [1, 9]. Predictable regularities allow observers to generate expectations about upcoming events and to learn from violations of those expectations [10, 11]. Given the benefits of detecting both predictable and unpredictable events, a key question concerns which types of input facilitate learning in young children. In the current research, we assessed the effects of predictability on toddlers’ word learning by embedding word-learning moments within events that were either predicted or violated predictions. 2-year-olds observed a continuous visual sequence in which novel objects were revealed from one of four locations in a predictable spatiotemporal pattern (1, 2, 3, 4). Objects were then labeled either during events that were predicted by the sequence (1, 2, 3, 4) or events that violated the sequence (1, 2, 3, 2). Results from two studies revealed better word learning for objects labeled during predictable events than objects labeled during unpredictable events. These findings suggest that predictable events create advantageous learning moments for toddlers, with implications for the role played by predictable input in early development. Benitez and Saffran examined whether predictability affects children's word learning. Toddlers viewed objects labeled during predictable or unpredictable events in a sequence. Label-object pairs were learned better when they were presented during predictable events, suggesting that predictable events create advantageous learning moments for toddlers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2787-2793.e4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 10 2018


  • prediction
  • sequence learning
  • statistical learning
  • word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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