Lift-the-Flap Features in ‘First Words’ Picture Books Impede Word Learning in 2-Year-Olds

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Toddlers learn more about the world from picture books with photographs instead of drawings, but commercial books often have tactile features such as flaps that may counterintuitively hinder learning. This study tested how lift-the-flap features in a commercial picture book of first words affected 2-year-olds’ (N = 32) learning of a new word for an unfamiliar food. Sixteen children saw the original lift-the-flap book, which depicted photos, and 16 saw the same book except that it was modified to have no flaps. The researcher went through the book with the child, labelling each fruit and vegetable six times. All children were unfamiliar with starfruit and were taught that it was called “carambola”. After they saw the book, children’s learning was tested by asking them to choose the target (i.e., “Show me carambola.”) from an array of three photos and then from an array of three fake food objects. Children who saw the lift-the-flap book chose the carambola target significantly less often than those who saw the modified no-flap book, and only those who saw the no-flap book performed above chance. However, the two groups did not differ in recognizing six higher frequency food words that were also presented in the book. Thus, 2-year-olds’ word learning was hindered when taught using a book with tactile features versus one without. This finding supports dual representation accounts arguing that a symbol’s concreteness interferes with representation of its abstract referent, and cognitive load accounts suggesting that tactile features distract attention from the book’s content.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Early online date2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020


  • educational picture books
  • tactile features
  • symbols
  • first words
  • early childhood

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