In 1988, a three-year-old child is led into a brightly colored testing room in a psychology department in Bloomington, Indiana. A small toy is brought out and put onto a table in front of the child. The toy was wooden, blue, about two inches square, and U-shaped. “This is a dax.” The researchers picked a word that was easy to pronounce, but was definitely something the children had never heard before. Then, seven other toys were brought out. Some of them were the same shape as the DAX, but larger, or smaller. Some were the same size, but were made of cloth or sponge instead of wood. Some were the same size and texture as the original DAX, but different in shape. One by one, the researcher picked up the toys, and asked, “is this a dax?” Sometimes, the researcher would hold up two of the new toys at the same time, and ask, “which of these is a dax?” (“Dax” or “dax” is used to indicate the label, while DAX is used to indicate the object.)
The experiment, conducted by psychologist Barbara Landau of Colombia University (now at Johns Hopkins), with Linda B. Smith and Susan S. Jones of Indiana University, was one of the first experiments that indicated which features of objects young children pay attention to when learning their names.
Read the whole story: Scientific American