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Learning concepts changes infant perception and memory

Pomiechowska, B. & Gliga, T. (2021) Nonverbal category knowledge limits the amount of information encoded in object representations: EEG evidence from 12-month-old infants. Royal Society Open Science


To what extent does language shape how we think about the world? Studies suggest thatlinguistic symbols expressing conceptual categories ("apple", "squirrel") make us focus oncategorical information (e.g., that you saw a squirrel) and disregard individual information (e.g.,whether that squirrel had a long or short tail). Across two experiments with preverbal infants, wedemonstrated that it is not language but nonverbal category knowledge that determines whatinformation is packed into object representations. Twelve-month-olds (N = 48) participated in anEEG change-detection task involving objects undergoing a brief occlusion. When viewing objectsfrom unfamiliar categories, infants detected both across- and within-category changes, asindicated by their Nc event-related potential. Conversely, when viewing objects from familiarcategories, they did not respond to within-category changes, which indicates that nonverbalcategory knowledge interfered with the representation of individual features necessary to detectsuch changes. Furthermore, distinct patterns of gamma and alpha oscillations between familiarand unfamiliar categories were evident before and during occlusion, suggesting thatcategorization had an influence on the format of recruited object representations. Thus, we showthat nonverbal category knowledge has rapid and enduring effects on object representation anddiscuss their functional significance for generic knowledge acquisition in the absence oflanguage.