Exploring the Underlying Processes of 5-Year-Olds’ Referential Communication Using Picture-Naming and Eye Tracking: A Comparison between Monolinguals and Bilinguals
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Studies have shown that children are generally unsuccessful referential communicators. They will both use and respond to ambiguous statements as though they are clear. This paper tests two theories that have been proposed for children’s lack of clarity: a) underdeveloped executive function makes children unable to inhibit the automatic response that is ambiguous, and b) children fail to monitor for ambiguous contexts and thus do not know when to response unambiguously. In two experiments (ambiguity and similarity task) a picture-naming paradigm using eye tracking was employed and the stimuli consisted of triads of pictures of everyday objects. In ambiguous trials two pictures were of the same type of object, and in unambiguous trials all pictures were different. In the ambiguity task 5-year-old monolinguals (N=16) and bilinguals (N=14) had to name the picture that was next to a cue. Their responses were coded as ambiguous or unambiguous. In the similarity task 5-year-old monolinguals (N=12) had to state whether another picture was the same as the target. Results showed that children in the ambiguity task produced more unambiguous utterances in the ambiguous trials than in the unambiguous trials. There was no significant difference between monolinguals and bilinguals, but it was shown that children who had a higher level of executive control also produced more unambiguous utterances, supporting an executive function explanation. The children in the similarity task succeeded in finding similar pictures 75% of the time. Eye tracking revealed that eye movements in children do not predict verbal behaviour before the occurrence of a cue, but can potentially predict behaviour after the cue has appeared. It was tentatively concluded that both executive function and monitoring ability are important components of success in referential communication tasks.