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An embodied model of young children’s categorization and word learning

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Children learn words with remarkable speed and flexibility. However, the cognitive basis of young children’s word learning is disputed. Further, although research demonstrates that children’s categories and category labels are interdependent, how children learn category labels is also a matter of debate. Recently, biologically plausible, computational simulations of children’s behavior in experimental tasks have investigated the cognitive processes that underlie learning. The ecological validity of such models has been successfully tested by deploying them in robotic systems (Morse, Belpaeme, Cangelosi, & Smith, 2010). We present a simulation of children’s behavior in a word learning task (Twomey & Horst, 2011) via an embodied system (iCub; Metta, et al., 2010), which points to associative learning and dynamic systems accounts of children’s categorization. Finally, we discuss the benefits of integrating computational and robotic approaches with developmental science for a deeper understanding of cognition.