The impact of perceived emotions on toddlers' word learning

Lizhi Ma, Katherine Twomey, Gert Westermann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Others' emotional expressions affect individuals' attention allocation in social interactions, which are integral to the process of word learning. However, the impact of perceived emotions on word learning is not well understood. Two eye-tracking experiments investigated 78 British toddlers' (37 girls) of 29- to 31-month-old retention of novel label-object and emotion-object associations after hearing labels presented in neutral, positive, and negative affect in a referent selection task. Overall, toddlers learned novel label-object associations regardless of the affect associated with objects but showed an attentional bias toward negative objects especially when emotional cues were presented (d = 0.95), suggesting that identifying the referent to a label is a competitive process between retrieval of the learned label-object association and the emotional valence of distractors.

Original languageEnglish
JournalChild Development
Early online date30 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2022


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