Emergent word-object mapping by children: Further studies using the blank comparison technique

UMMS Affiliation

Shriver Center

Publication Date


Document Type



Discrimination Learning; Behavior; Children


Mental and Social Health | Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Psychiatry and Psychology


Two experiments examined the emergent mapping phenomenon in Portuguese-speaking children aged 3-13. This phenomenon is relevant to developmental psychologists' interest in "fast mapping" of new word-referent relations and also to behavior analysts' interest in behavior that emerges without explicit conditioning. We studied 52 children, using the "blank comparison" matching-to-sample technique described by Wilkinson and Mclivane (1997). The technique allows direct measurement of the stimulus control bases of emergent mapping, for example, to determine whether new words and their referents are related directly or via rejection (i.e., exclusion) of previously defined referents. Children demonstrated both types of controlling relations. These studies systematically replicate prior emergent mapping research in a large cohort of non-English-speaking children. Also found were apparent developmental differences between older and younger children. Although all children tended to relate novel stimuli, the tendency appeared to decline as children aged. This study confirms the utility of the blank comparison technique in emergent mapping research and also provides the first data set from school-aged children.


da Costa, A. R. A., Wilkinson, K. M., McIlvane, W. J., & de Souza, D. G. (2001). Emergent word-object mapping by children: Further studies using the blank comparison technique. Psychological Record, 51(3), 343-355.

Journal/Book/Conference Title

The Psychological Record