Children Understand ‘Opposite’ by Age 4 Typically developing children likely grasp the concept of “opposite” around age 4, according to new research. Considered a marker of lexical and conceptual development, understanding opposites means a child has learned that some words are related and binary, even though their meanings are “simultaneously similar and different,” note study authors ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   July 01, 2015
Children Understand ‘Opposite’ by Age 4
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Development / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   July 01, 2015
Children Understand ‘Opposite’ by Age 4
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, 17. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB7.20072015.17
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, 17. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB7.20072015.17
Typically developing children likely grasp the concept of “opposite” around age 4, according to new research.
Considered a marker of lexical and conceptual development, understanding opposites means a child has learned that some words are related and binary, even though their meanings are “simultaneously similar and different,” note study authors Catherine I. Phillips and Penny M. Pexman of the University of Calgary’s psychology department.
Published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, the study measured mastery of this metalinguistic concept in 204 children, ranging from 3 to 5 years old. Previous studies have identified 4 years of age as a possible point of understanding opposites. This study evaluated younger children in an effort to confirm that baseline.
Researchers tasked the children with identifying antonymic pairs (such as “awake” and “asleep,” “dirty” and “clean”) shown in images with animals. The 4- and 5-year-olds showed an understanding of the opposites, and their accuracy improved with age. Children younger than 4 did not show the same ability.

Working memory, receptive vocabulary and communicative skills appeared to affect children’s ability to point out opposites.

Researchers also assessed the children’s working memory, receptive vocabulary and communicative skills, though none of these appeared to affect their ability to point out opposites. The researchers also considered childcare experiences and access to books and games relating to opposites, finding little relation to the age-based outcomes.
Eye-gaze analyses showed no evidence for early implicit understanding of the concept in 3-year-olds.
The authors suggest that future research focus on identifying intervention strategies for children who have difficulty learning the concept.
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July 2015
Volume 20, Issue 7