Words and facts: children's fast mapping, retention and extension

Holland, Amanda (2015) Words and facts: children's fast mapping, retention and extension. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Fast mapping describes the cognitive skill of mapping new information onto its appropriate referent, from minimal exposure. It has been researched primarily in the field of word learning and evidence suggests that a pre-school child can link a novel word with its referent and retain this link up to 1 month later (e.g. Markson & Bloom, 1997). In 4 experiments, I investigated the retention of fast mapped novel words and facts after 1 week in 3- and 4-year-old children. In the fifth and final study, I investigated extension of object labels and facts.

In study 1, participants demonstrated an impressive rate of retention of a link between a novel object label and its referent novel object after one week. In contrast, retention of colour labels, shape labels, texture labels and linguistic facts was no better than chance, despite good short-term performance. These data suggested that object labels are retained more easily than other word types and facts.

Studies 2, 3 and 4 investigated why facts were not retained after one week in Study 1. Studies 2 and 3 explored whether fast-mapped facts are only retained in the long term if they are associated with novel rather than familiar objects. Neither study found any significant differences between conditions suggesting that the familiarity of the referent object has limited effect on the long-term retention of fast mapped facts. Study 2 evidenced poor retention whereas, Study 3 found good long-term retention in all conditions. Study 4 examined whether the experimenter’s naming of familiar objects and the participant selecting the target object, during exposure to a novel fact, affects retention. Retention of facts was weak and no different from chance in all conditions. These results indicated that long-term retention of fast-mapped words and facts was much more difficult than the early literature suggested. A thorough analysis suggested several factors may have affected retention e.g. repeat testing and gestural cues.

A final study examined extension of object labels and facts to other similar-shaped novel objects. Children spontaneously extended a newly learned novel object label, but not a specific fact ("my uncle gave this to me"). However, they extended a more generalisable fact, ("it comes from a place called Modi") to other members of the same object category, to the same extent as object labels. This indicated that facts can be as extendable as words and supports the conclusion that learning words and facts utilize similar cognitive mechanisms.

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