Associative word learning in infancy: A meta-analysis of the switch task.

Associative word learning, the ability to pair a concept to a word, is an essential mechanism for early language development. One common method by which researchers measure this ability is the Switch task (Werker, Cohen, Lloyd, Casasola, & Stager, 1998), wherein infants are habituated to 2 word-object pairings and then tested on their ability to notice a switch in those pairings. In this comprehensive meta-analysis, we summarized 141 Switch task studies involving 2,723 infants of 12 to 20 months to estimate an average effect size for the task (random-effect model) and to explore how key experimental factors affect infants’ performance (fixed-effect model). The average effect size was low to moderate in size, Cohen’s d = 0.32. The use of language-typical and dissimilar-sounding words as well as the presence of additional facilitative cues aided performance, particularly for younger infants. Infants learning 2 languages at home outperformed those learning 1, indicating a bilingual advantage in learning word-object associations. Together, these findings support the Processing Rich Information from Multidimensional Interactive Representations (PRIMIR) theoretical framework of infant speech perception and word learning (e.g., Werker & Curtin, 2005), but invite further theoretical work to account for the observed bilingual advantage. Lastly, some of our analyses raised the possibility of questionable research practices in this literature. Therefore, we conclude with suggestions (e.g., preregistration, transparent data peeking, and alternate statistical approaches) for how to address this important issue. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)