Project members:

Kristina Borgström, Magnus Lindgren, Mikael Johansson, Peter Gärdenfors, Marianne Gullberg.

Aim of project:

The overall objective is to understand the basic neural mechanisms underlying the ability to rapidly learn novel words for novel objects.

In a longitudinal study of children between 1½ and 2 years we are investigating the growth of the earliest lexicon and the electrophysiological processes involved in this learning.

In a related study involving adults, we test the effect of different conditions in a learning phase on memory for object categories and their novel labels. Specifically, we test the possible interaction between distributed learning and item variability during learning, and its implications for later memory performance.

Why is this project interesting?

The cognitive mechanisms underlying the rapid vocabulary growth that takes place between 1½ and 2 years are still not completely understood. The longitudinal study allows us to measure the development that occurs at a neural level and see how it correlates with other measures of children’s language and general cognitive development.

Although the benefit of distributed learning in episodic memory tasks is well established, few have studied its effect on inductive semantic learning. We hope to gain new data that are relevant for the theories of why distributed presentation improves learning, and also how category learning is affected by item variability depending on whether learning has occurred in a distributed or non-distributed fashion.

Another study associated with this project has demonstrated ERP evidence of paired associate learning in 14-month old children. This ERP effect also correlated with performance in observation-only deferred imitation. This study was carried out in collaboration between Lund University and Linköping University (Mikael Heimann, Mary Rudner, and Emelie Nordquist, Linköping University).


Borgström, K., Torkildsen, J. v K., Lindgren, M. (2014). Visual ERP repetition effects to novel objects predict word fast mapping ability in 20-month-olds. Poster presented at the 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Neuriobiology of Language, Amsterdam.

Borgström, K., Torkildsen, J. v K., Lindgren, M. (submitted). ERP measures of word mapping to object shape predict toddlers’ vocabulary size.

Borgström, K., Johansson, M., Lindgren, M. (in preparation). Effects of variability and spacing on category learning: (Un)desirable difficulties?

Borgström, K., Torkildsen, J. v K., Lindgren, M. (2013). Shape or detail? An electrophysiological investigation of object recognition processes related to language development in 20-month-olds. Poster presented at the 5th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language, San Diego, CA.

Heimann, M., Nordqvist, E., Rudner, M., Johansson, M., Lindgren, M. (2013). Associative learning measured with ERP predicts deferred imitation using a strict observation only design in 14 to 15 month old children. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 54(1), 33-40. doi: 10.1111/sjop.12005