"I'm Sorry, what was your name again?" Preschoolers' Lexical Access to Proper Names and Common Nouns

Pinkham, Ashley M., Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Lillard, Angeline, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
DeLoache, Judy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Jaswal, Vikram, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Green, Mitchell

The dissociation between proper name and common noun retrieval is well-documented (e.g., Cohen & Faulkner, 1984; McWeeny, Young, Hay, & Ellis, 1987). Based upon this dissociation, some researchers have argued that proper names are processed in a fundamentally different manner than common nouns (e.g., Emmorey, Grabowski, McCullough, Damasio, Ponto, Hichwa et al., 2003). Another possibility, however, is that name retrieval deficits are due to proper names' lack of semantic meaningfulness (e.g., Cohen, 1990). Previous research has primarily addressed naming difficulties in younger and older adults, leaving children's facility with learning and retrieving names an open question, and yet children's memory for names can help test the different theories. The present research investigated 4-year-olds' memory for proper names and the factors affecting retrieval. Preliminary Experiment 1 established that 4-year-olds do show a proper name/common noun dissociation. Preliminary Experiments 2 and 3 demonstrated that semantic meaningfulness and individual descriptiveness have a greater effect on 4- year-olds' memory than lexical class, and Preliminary Experiment 4 demonstrated that semantic meaningfulness is also more influential than lexical sub-class. Based upon these results, two additional experiments investigated whether additional factors may influence preschoolers' memory for proper names. Experiment 1 showed that personal significance positively affects children's name retrieval, whereas Experiment 2 demonstrated that distinctiveness has a negative effect. Taken together, the results of these experiments have important implications for research on children's semantic memory and domain-general theories of word learning.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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