Psych Colloquium: Preschoolers’ Curiosity about Novel Words

The tempting smell of pizza, eager audiences, a room with no empty seats, and the generally enthusiastic atmosphere of the psychology building welcomed Sofia Jimenez on Wednesday, October 3. Jimenez is a linguistic researcher from the University of California San Diego and has done extensive research into the way that children are exposed to languages and gradually acquire them. The talk focused on the preschoolers’ curiosity about novel words.

Preschoolers show an evidently epistemic curiosity toward exploring novel objects. They pay particular attention to resolving uncertainty. Age plays the main role in distinguishing their abilities to approach new words, because cognitions develop as one grows up. With more sophisticated cognitive abilities, older children are able to apply their mental states to explore the properties of new words. Without advanced cognitive abilities, younger children are disposed to their preferences to determine what new words to learn about, the pattern of which fits the non-explanation mechanism. Research also shows that more mental state explanations are used for novel word learning whereas function and preference are used for known words.

Other factors, such as confidence and context, also contribute to different levels of novel word curiosity. The inverse-U shaped pattern describes the trend that curiosity for learning new words first rises but then declines as one’s confidence in knowledge continues progressing. It demonstrates the importance of having an ideal extent of confidence in acquiring knowledge to avoid being too reserved nor too conceited. Besides, words in familiar contexts are more likely to attract children’s attention. Contexts serve as an anchor for information about new words, therefore presenting them as more approachable to children.

With age, confidence, and context as the main significant factors, preschoolers are curious about acquiring novel words. The talk was filled with insightful thoughts and animated question-and-answer interactions as a successful installment in this semester’s series of speakers from around the country.

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