"Pinch the Giraffe with the Glove" - Syntactic Ambiguity Resolution in Young Children
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Previous research in language development focusing on the comprehension of ambiguous sentences has found that children are unable to use top-down information, such as referential context, to resolve the ambiguity. The present study aimed to discover whether children were also insensitive to a different form of top-down processing (the prior question). To do so, we conducted an experiment with 5- and 7-year-olds which involved playing with toys on a stage whilst listening to sound files which asked them to act out ambiguous instructions. We found that there are not so many differences between 5- and 7-year-olds as has been previously suggested, and that children from the 5-year-old age group were able to use top-down cues. This contradicts previous work which has suggested that children are completely insensitive to top-down cues and we propose that they are in fact engaging in both top-down and bottom-up processing. Further studies will need to be carried out in order to dismiss any other factors that could have affected the results seen in the present study, such as socio-economic status or intelligence. It could also be that the prior question was a form of top-down cue that was easier for young children to process, therefore further research is necessary before concluding whether children are able to use top-down cues.