Learning What to Remember: Vocabulary Knowledge and Children's Memory for Object Names and Features

Lynn K. Perry, Emma L. Axelsson, Jessica S. Horst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Although young children can map a novel name to a novel object, it remains unclear what they actually remember about objects when they initially make such a name–object association. In the current study we investigated (1) what children remembered after they were initially introduced to name–object associations and (2) how their vocabulary size and vocabulary structure influenced what they remembered. As a group, children had difficulty remembering each of the features of the original novel objects. Further analyses revealed that differences in vocabulary structure predicted children's ability to remember object features. Specifically, children who produced many names for categories organized by similarity in shape (e.g. ball, cup) had the best memory for newly-learned objects' features—especially their shapes. In addition, the more features children remembered, the more likely they were to retain the newly learned name–object associations. Vocabulary size, however, was not predictive of children's feature memory or retention. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that children's existing vocabulary structure, rather than simply vocabulary size, influences what they attend to when encountering a new object and subsequently their ability to remember new name–object associations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-258
Number of pages12
JournalInfant and Child Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • fast mapping
  • shape bias
  • vocabulary
  • word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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