Rule Learning by Seven-Month-Old Infants

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Science  01 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5398, pp. 77-80
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5398.77

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A fundamental task of language acquisition is to extract abstract algebraic rules. Three experiments show that 7-month-old infants attend longer to sentences with unfamiliar structures than to sentences with familiar structures. The design of the artificial language task used in these experiments ensured that this discrimination could not be performed by counting, by a system that is sensitive only to transitional probabilities, or by a popular class of simple neural network models. Instead, these results suggest that infants can represent, extract, and generalize abstract algebraic rules.

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