Child Priming of Syntactic Structure – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

Child Priming of Syntactic Structure

Isabella Tape

Isabella Tape

Pronouns: she, her

Research Mentor(s): Emily Atkinson, Research Fellow
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Weinberg Institute of Cognitive Science, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 2 (11am – 11:50am)
Breakout Room: Room 3
Presenter: 6

Event Link


Our lab investigates whether children’s interpretation of sentences with PP-attachment (prepositional phrase) ambiguities can be primed by producing sentences with unambiguous meaning. We are trying to determine if children’s description of an image or selection of an image is influenced by the kind of image they had described to them earlier. Basically, a student will have a modifier and instrument interpretation of a prepositional phrase represented in front of them in the form of images and they are supposed to choose which they think is accurate after being read the sentence. Our hypothesis is that the child will choose the image which we have primed them to choose. In order to prime the child, we will show them two images and read them a sentence with an ambiguous prepositional phrase, and one photo will be of either the instrument or modifier interpretation with the correct nouns and the other will be the other interpretation with incorrect nouns, leading the child to select the interpretation we choose because of the nouns. Then we will give them a couple of images with the correct nouns depicted, one with a modifier interpretation and one with an instrument, and read them an ambiguous sentence and see which they select. We also ask the child to say a sentence and then we select the image, being certain to select the image corresponding with the interpretation we want them to learn. We keep our data in an Excel Sheet and compile the results to see if the interpretation most commonly selected aligns with the interpretation we try to teach them. Though this semester we have mostly done control work, the lab in the past has found that children are most frequently drawn to instrument interpretations of the sentence. The main conclusions of this research are that priming is possible when sentence structure is ambiguous.

Authors: Isabella Tape
Research Method: Data Collection and Analysis

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