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Language, Learning, & Development Lab. Department of Psychology. Oklahoma State University

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Current Studies

We are currently conducting a number of studies examining how children and adults learn and think about the world.

how exciting (or boring) the toys are. In addition, we examine how children with language delays or with a low vocabulary may learn words differently than children with normal language or a high vocabulary.

      The current study is using a series of standard research tasks to see how individual children learn new words. During the task, children are taught new, novel words and tested on their knowledge for words they already know. We hope to be able to use information about a child's own life, family, and development to predict how they will perform, and in the future, use this information to predict which children may be at risk for language delays later in life. Parts of this project have contributed to a student's honors thesis on the role of technology in language development and a McNair Scholar project on the social factors that impact development. Other parts of the project have been recently presented at the International Congress on Infant Studies, the Society for Research in Child Development, and at the Symposium for Research on Child​ Language Disorders. Portions of this work are published in Infancy, Child Development Perspectives, Cognitive Science, and the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

A parent and child participating in a study in the lab

How young children learn words

As any parent or caregiver will attest, it is often remarkable the speed at which young children grow and learn, especially during the first two years. In this study, we are specifically interested in how children quickly acquire language and learn to communicate with those around them. We look at what factors alter a child's ability to learn a new word, such as what other toys are around, the way we present the new words, and

Early word learning - Individual trajectories

Young children learn and grow rapidly during the first few years of life. However, each child is also unique and develops at their own rate and in their own way. In this study, we look at what may best predict an individual's language ability and their future language growth. In particular, we focus on the different experiences and characteristics an individual may bring to the task of learning, such as a child's temperament and/or the parent's personality, the child's prior experience with technology, the amount and type of exposure a child has to other items in the past, and the social and demographic factors present in a child's household. Early findings from this study have been presented at the Midwestern Psychological Sicety and the Society for Research in Child Development. A publication of this work is under review.

Specific Language Impairment - understanding the meaning of words

Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is a disorder that affects nearly 7% of the population. SLI is characterized by difficulty in language in the absence of any other known cause. Children with SLI have normal IQ, normal reading abilities, and normal social skills, but lack in their ability to comprehend and use language in everyday life. In this study, we are using a database of children with SLI to examine the semantic-conceptual knowledge of these children (i.e. how they define a word). That is, we are interested in if children with SLI have the same understanding of what words mean or if their definitions of words are vague or limited in some way. This can thus help inform our speech pathologist colleagues on intervention and therapy targeting specific areas of weakness in the vocabularies of these children. Parts of this project have been presented at the Symposium for Research on Child Language Disorders. This manuscript is currently in preparation.

Learning in context

Even as adults, we are still learning new things and still expanding what we know about things in the world. This study specifically asks how adults are influenced by the context when learning a new word. For instance, if we encounter a wif in the kitchen along with a lot of utensils, you might conclude a wif is some sort of kitchen tool. However, if a new word/object is seen in the backyard, you probably are not going to guess that it is another name for spoon. This work will help us better understand not just how an adult may learn new words or a second language, but also how college students may best learn new information in the classroom, or how parents can help their children learn new words. Parts of this project have been presented at the Cognitive Science Society.

Museums supporting development and learning

A new series of projects in collaboration with the Tulsa Children's Museum/Discovery Lab aims to study how children and families from all backgrounds learn and grow within community spaces and museums in particular. One avenue of this work is exploring how parents and children interact across different types of exhibits within an museum. Parent-child interactions is a critical part of a child's development and the more a parent interacts, the more the child can learn. Thus, we aim to create exhbits that will foster such interactions and conversations, thereby increasing learning and supporting development. The goal is to create an atmosphere where both parents and children learn and engage; an environment that fully supports the development of children of all ages and backgrounds as they grow and discover. For more information about the Tulsa Children's Museum and Discovery Labs, visit their website https://discoverylab.org/ or better yet, visit them in person!


Below is a list of recent publications from the lab. Personal copies for researchers are happily shared upon request (sarah.kucker@okstate.edu)


Kucker, S.C., McMurray, B., & Samuelson, L.K. (2020). Sometimes it is better to know less: How known words influence referentm

      selection and retention in 18- to 24-month-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 189, 104705. doi:    



Kucker, S.C. (2020). How to learn a word: The dynamic coupling of words and referents in real and developmental time. Invited chapter for   

      P.  Hagoort (Ed). Human Language: From Genes and Brains to Behavior. MIT Press.

Chmielewski, M. & Kucker, S.C. (2019). An MTurk crisis? Shifts in data quality and the impact on study results. Social Psychological and     

      Personality Science, early view. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550619875149

Perry, L.K., & Kucker, S.C. (2019). The heterogeneity of word learning biases in late talking children. Journal of Speech, Language, and    

      Hearing Research, 62(3), 554-563. https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-ASTM-18-0234

Kucker, S.C., Samuelson, L.K., Perry, L.K., Yoshida, H., Colunga, E., Lorenz, M.G., & Smith, L.B. (2018). Reproducibility and a unifying    

      explanation: Lessons from the shape bias. Infant Behavior and Development, 54, 156-165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2018.09.011


Kucker, S.C., McMurray, B., & Samuelson, L.K. (2018). Too much of a good thing: How novelty biases and vocabulary influence familiar

      and novel referent selection in 18-month-old children and associative models. Cognitive Science, 42, 463-493.


Samuelson, L.K., Kucker, S.C., & Spencer, J. (2017). Moving word learning to a novel space: A dynamic systems view of referent selection and        retention. Cognitive Science, 41(S1),52-72. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12369

Kucker, S.C., McMurray, B., & Samuelson, L.K. (2015). Slowing down fast mapping: Redefining the dynamics of word learning. Child       

      Development Perspectives, 9(2), 74-78. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12110

McMurray, B., Zhao, L., Kucker, S.C., & Samuelson, L.K. (2013). Pushing the envelope of associative learning: Internal representations and 

      dynamic competition transform association into development. Invited chapter for L. Gogate and G. Hollich (Eds). Theoretical and

      Computational Models of Word Learning: Trends in Psychology and Artificial Intelligence. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Kucker, S.C., & Samuelson, L.K. (2012). The first slow step: Differential effects of object and word-form familiarization on retention of fast-

      mapped words. Infancy, 17(3), 295-232. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7078.2011.00081.x

Horst, J.S., Samuelson, L.K., Kucker, S.C., & McMurray, B. (2011). What’s new? Children prefer novelty in referent selection. Cognition, 118(2),

      234-244. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2010.10.015

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