What we attend to at any moment determines what we learn at that moment, and this also depends on our past learning. This grant investigates how words, perceptual cues, and category organizations form a system of associations that contextually cue attention, making it exquisitely tuned to context and thus constraining and propelling future learning. Although old views characterized associative learning as simple counting of individual pairings, more advanced theories suggest that people learn systems of overlapping associations that (1) lead to systematic effects on attention, (2) tune learning to the context, and (3) give rise to higher-order (almost rule-like) correlations. This grant seeks a mechanistic understanding of these processes in word learning context. Twenty- four to 48-months-old children will participate in the experiments containing artificial language learning, training tasks, and the comparison of children learning two different languages (English and Japanese), with different systems of correlations. Understanding the basic processes through which context guides attention and how and why language might be a particularly potent cue to attention is a first step toward understanding the cascading consequences of language delay on cognitive development and the invention of new methods for tuning attention when language is not easily available to the learner.

Public Health Relevance

What we attend to at any moment determines what we learn at that moment. What we attend to is also dependent on what we have learned in the past. Thus, learning --and development -- builds on itself. Attentional learning thus provides one example of how developmental delays in a basic process might create snowballing detrimental consequences. Understanding basic mechanisms of attentional learning should also provide us with principled reasons for developing new intervention and therapeutic procedures. Attention (and attentional learning) has been implicated in developmental disorders including pervasive developmental delay, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, among others. This grant proposes to examine attentional learning in the context of language learning, in typically developing children, but its findings broader implications for attentional learning more generally and also developmental delays in language learning.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
Program Officer
Miller, Brett
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Houston
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Burling, Joseph M; Yoshida, Hanako (2017) Highlighting in Early Childhood: Learning Biases Through Attentional Shifting. Cogn Sci 41 Suppl 1:96-119
Bilson, Samuel; Yoshida, Hanako; Tran, Crystal D et al. (2015) Semantic facilitation in bilingual first language acquisition. Cognition 140:122-34
Darby, Kevin; Burling, Joseph; Yoshida, Hanako (2014) The Role of Search Speed in the Contextual Cueing of Children's Attention. Cogn Dev 29:17-29
Yoshida, Hanako; Hanania, Rima (2013) If it's red, it's not Vap: how competition among words may benefit early word learning. First Lang 33:3-19
Yoshida, Hanako (2012) A Cross-Linguistic Study of Sound-Symbolism in Children's Verb Learning. J Cogn Dev 13:232-265
Yoshida, Hanako; Burling, Joseph Michael (2012) Highlighting: a mechanism relevant for word learning. Front Psychol 3:262
Yoshida, Hanako; Tran, Duc N; Benitez, Viridiana et al. (2011) Inhibition and adjective learning in bilingual and monolingual children. Front Psychol 2:210
Yoshida, Hanako; Burling, Joseph M (2011) A New Perspective on Embodied Social Attention. Cogn Brain Behav 15:535-552
Smith, Linda B; Colunga, Eliana; Yoshida, Hanako (2010) Knowledge as process: contextually-cued attention and early word learning. Cogn Sci 34:1287-314