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Verbal labels increase the salience of novel objects for preschoolers with typical development and Williams syndrome, but not in autism

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posted on 2022-03-29, 04:17 authored by Giacomo VivantiGiacomo Vivanti, Darren HockingDarren Hocking, Peter Fanning, Cheryl DissanayakeCheryl Dissanayake
Background: Early research has documented that young children show an increased interest toward objects that are verbally labeled by an adult, compared to objects that are presented without a label. It is unclear whether the same phenomenon occurs in neurodevelopmental disorders affecting social development, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Williams syndrome (WS). Methods: The present study used a novel eye-tracking paradigm to determine whether hearing a verbal label increases the salience of novel objects in 35 preschoolers with ASD, 18 preschoolers with WS, and 20 typically developing peers. Results: We found that typically developing children and those with WS, but not those with ASD, spent significantly more time looking at objects that are verbally labeled by an adult, compared to objects that are presented without a label. Conclusions: In children without ASD, information accompanied by the speaker's verbal label is accorded a "special status," and it is more likely to be attended to. In contrast, children with ASD do not appear to attribute a special salience to labeled objects compared to non-labeled objects. This result is consistent with the notion that reduced responsivity to pedagogical cues hinders social learning in young children with ASD.


This work was supported by Australian Research Council "near miss" funding and Research Focus Area Start-Up Project Grants from La Trobe University. DH was supported by an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Grant (DE160100042).


Publication Date



Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders





Article Number





BioMed Central



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© The Author(s). 2016 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.