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Adults reason by exclusivity to identify the meanings of novel words. However, it is debated whether, like children, they extend this strategy to disambiguate other referential expressions (e.g., facts about objects). To further inform this debate, this study tested 41 adults on four conditions of a disambiguation task: label/label, fact/fact, label/fact, and fact/label (Scofield & Behrend, 2007). Participants also provided a verbal explanation for their referent selections to tease apart the underlying processes. Results indicated that adults successfully discerned the target object in the label/label and label/fact condition, yet not the remaining two conditions. Verbal reports indicated that the strategy utilized to disambiguate differed depending upon communicative context. These findings confirm that the tendency to reason by exclusivity becomes restricted to word-learning situations with growing linguistic and communicative experience.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

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Journal Article

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