Making sense of infant familiarity and novelty responses to words at lexical onset

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This study suggests that familiarity and novelty preferences in infant experimental tasks can in some instances be interpreted together as a single indicator of language advance. We provide evidence to support this idea based on our use of the auditory headturn preference paradigm to record responses to words likely to be either familiar or unfamiliar to infants. Fifty-nine 10-month-old infants were tested. The task elicited mixed preferences: Familiarity (longer average looks to the words likely to be familiar to the infants), novelty (longer average looks to the words likely to be unfamiliar) and no-preference (similar-length of looks to both type of words). The infants who exhibited either a familiarity or a novelty response were more advanced on independent indices of phonetic advance than the infants who showed no preference. In addition, infants exhibiting novelty responses were more lexically advanced than either the infants who exhibited familiarity or those who showed no-preference. The results provide partial support for Hunter and Ames' (1988) developmental model of attention in infancy and suggest caution when interpreting studies indexed to chronological age.

Original languageEnglish
Article number715
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016, DePaolis, Keren-Portnoy and Vihman.
This Document is Protected by copyright and was first published by Frontiers. All rights reserved. it is reproduced with permission.


  • Early word learning
  • Familiarity
  • Headturn preference procedure
  • Infant speech perception
  • Novelty

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