Young children use logic before language

summary: Young children as young as 19 months old show normal logical thinking, regardless of language knowledge. This ability, manifested as exclusion by elimination, allows young children to draw conclusions about unknown truths by excluding known impossibilities.

By analyzing the patterns of gaze movement in the tests, they discovered this innate thought process. The study also found no significant differences between bilingual and monolingual young children, indicating that this reasoning does not depend on linguistic expertise.

Key facts:

  1. Young children, from at least 19 months of age, display normal logical reasoning that operates independently of their knowledge of language.
  2. The dominant strategy used by young children is ‘exclusion by exclusion’, which eliminates known options to reach unknown conclusions.
  3. Research tests have found no significant differences in the reasoning abilities of bilingual and monolingual young children, indicating the universality of this early cognitive skill.

source: UPF Barcelona

How do we learn to speak in childhood or how do we gain knowledge about the world around us? Young children’s social interactions in their social and family environment and in schools help explain this, but are not the only factors involved.

Natural logical thinking, which manifests itself at a very young age and does not depend on knowledge of language, also facilitates the learning process, according to a study by the UPF Center for Brain and Cognition, the results of which were published on Friday, September 1, in the journal Current Biology.

The study analyzes the importance of two infant strategies for coping with uncertainty: attachment and exclusion (or detachment). Credit: Neuroscience News

The study focuses on a question that continues to spark controversy among neuroscientists: whether children who have not yet learned to speak (or develop speech) are capable of logical reasoning.

This groundbreaking research shows that this natural logical reasoning has been present since at least 19 months of age, is not dependent on knowledge of language and is primarily developed through an exclusion-by-exclusion strategy.

In other words, if young children encounter an unknown reality, they will try to analyze it and come to some conclusions about it by ruling out options that are not possible, according to their level of knowledge at the time.

The results of the paper are presented in the article entitled The scope and role of elicitation in infant cognitionWritten by Anna Bohos, Nicolò Cezana Arlotti, Ana Martin Salguero, and Luca Lorenzo Bonatti. The principal investigator, L. Bonatti (ICREA), is director of the Infant Cognition and Inference (RICO) Research Group in the Center for Brain and Cognition (CBC) at UPF. Kinga Anna Bohus (head writer) N. Cesana-Arlotti and Ana Martin-Salguero are currently researchers at Yale University (USA) and the École Normale Supérieure de Paris.

Young children tend to resolve doubts by ruling out impossible options according to the level of knowledge they have at any given moment

The study analyzes the importance of two infant strategies for coping with uncertainty: attachment and exclusion (or detachment). The first strategy means that young children who hear a new word that may refer to two unfamiliar objects that they can see, mentally associate the term with each of them. Then, they associated the term with the object that best suited that name.

The second strategy (exclusion) explains how a child can learn a new word through logical reasoning by excluding alternatives. For example, if they see two objects (A and B) and hear an unknown term that they know is not A (because they know the name of A), they will specify that it is the name of B. This is the prevailing strategy, according to the study’s findings.

Two experiments to analyze young children’s natural logic with known and unknown objects and terms

The research team conducted two different experiments, the first with 61 monolingual (26) and bilingual (35) 19-month-old toddlers and the second with 33 (19 monolingual and 14 bilingual). The analysis of each group was critical to determine whether inferential processes depended on language experience.

In the first experiment, participants were shown two objects, which they had to associate with one of the words they had heard, through various tests. In the first test, they had to look at two things they knew (for example, a spoon and a biscuit), and when they heard a term (for example, a spoon), associate it with one of them.

In the second test, children were shown something they knew (eg, an apple) and an object they were not familiar with (eg, a carburetor), and they heard the word corresponding to the known object (eg, apple), which they had to identify.

The third test was the same as the second test, except that the heard word corresponded to the unknown word (eg, carburetor).

In the second experiment, two animated objects or objects were used (for example, an umbrella and an image of a boy), each associated with a sound. Then the two bodies were covered so that the infant could not see them and one of them was placed in a cup.

When they were exposed, the child could only see one of the two objects and had to guess, by ellipsis, which was in the glass.

In a later test (with the two objects covered and without changing their position), the infant listened to the sound associated with one of them and analyzed whether it was looking in the correct direction of the object.

In all of these tests, their gaze movement patterns were assessed. For example, when inferring by exclusion, young children look at something “A” and, if they exclude that the term they heard refers to, they turn their gaze towards “B”. This is known as the double checking strategy.

There were no relevant differences in the reasoning of monolingual and bilingual young children

The lead author of the research, Kinga Anna Bohus, summarizes the main findings of the study as follows: “We studied the existence of the concept of logical separation in infants at 19 months of age. In the word reference mapping task, both bilingual and monolingual infants show a pattern of oculomotor scrutiny previously found to be a hallmark of dissociative thinking in adults and children.

In short, the results of the study showed that there are no statistically significant differences between the logical thinking of monolingual and bilingual children, which confirms that it does not depend on linguistic knowledge. This normal logical thinking can be present before the age of 19 months, although there is not enough scientific evidence to prove its presence at such early ages.

About Neurodevelopmental Research News

author: Gerard Val Lovera Calmette
source: UPF Barcelona
communication: Gerard Val-Loveira Calmette – UPF Barcelona
picture: Image credited to Neuroscience News

Original search: Closed access.
“The scope and role of elicitation in infant cognition” by Kinga Anna Bohus et al. Current Biology

a summary

The scope and role of elicitation in infant cognition


  • Signs of logical inference appear when 19-month-olds find references to new words
  • Their presence in familiar words and references indicates recourse to logic
  • Children spread inference by ellipsis also in object identification tasks
  • In the early cognition stage, logical calculations support learning by reducing uncertainty


The origins of the human capacity for logically organized reasoning remain a mystery. Studies of young adults, which may be particularly helpful, provide conflicting results. Infants appear to be able to generate competing hypotheses and observe the certainty or probability of individual outcomes, which indicates the presence of clear intellectual language.

However, sometimes toddlers and even children as young as 4 years old fail in tasks that seem to require the same acting abilities. One of the basic tests for the existence of logical abilities is the concept of dissociation as a means of conceiving alternative possibilities, and dissociative dissociation as a means of cultivating them.

Here, we document its extensive presence in 19-month-old infants. In the word referencing task, both bilingual and monolingual infants show a pattern of oculomotor scrutiny previously found to be a hallmark of dissociative thinking in adults and children, demonstrating that the onset of logical reasoning is not critically dependent on language experience.

The pattern emerges when the targets are new, but also when things and words are known, although they are probably not yet deposited in a mature lexicon. Dissociative reasoning also appears in the non-linguistic location-finding task, and is not driven by violated expectations, showing that infants reason automatically by exclusion.

Together, these results help answer long-standing empirical and philosophical puzzles about the role of logic in the development of early knowledge, suggesting that by increasing confidence in certain choices while excluding alternatives, logic provides the scaffolding for organizing knowledge about the world, language, and objects. Relationships between language and the world.

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