The company objects keep: Linking referents together during cross-situational word learning

Martin Zettersten, Erica Wojcik, Viridiana Benitez, Jenny Saffran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Learning the meanings of words involves not only linking individual words to referents but also building a network of connections among entities in the world, concepts, and words. Previous studies reveal that infants and adults track the statistical co-occurrence of labels and objects across multiple ambiguous training instances to learn words. However, it is less clear whether, given distributional or attentional cues, learners also encode associations among the novel objects. We investigated the consequences of two types of cues that highlighted object-object links in a cross-situational word learning task: distributional structure – how frequently the referents of novel words occurred together – and visual context – whether the referents were seen on matching backgrounds. Across three experiments, we found that in addition to learning novel words, adults formed connections between frequently co-occurring objects. These findings indicate that learners exploit statistical regularities to form multiple types of associations during word learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-73
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Cross-situational word learning
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Semantic networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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