Toddlers' referential understanding of pictures.

Patricia Ganea, Melissa L. Allen, Lucas Butler, Susan Carey, Judy DeLoache

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Pictures are referential in that they can represent objects in the real world. Here we explore the emergence of understanding of the referential potential of pictures during the second year of life. In Study 1, 15-, 18-, and 24-month-olds learned a word for a picture of a novel object (e.g., ?blicket?) in the context of a picture book interaction. Later they were presented with the picture of a blicket along with the real object it depicted and asked to indicate the blicket. Many of the 24-, 18-, and even 15-month-olds indicated the real object as an instance of a blicket, consistent with an understanding of the referential relation between pictures and objects. In Study 2, children were tested with an exemplar object that differed in color from the depicted object to determine whether they would extend the label they had learned for the depicted object to a slightly different category member. The 15-, 18-, and 24-month-old participants failed to make a consistent referential response. The results are discussed in terms of whether pictorial understanding at this age is associative or symbolic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-295
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


  • Pictures
  • Words
  • Symbolic understanding
  • Toddlers
  • Iconicity
  • Representation


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