An individual differences perspective on pragmatic abilities in the preschool years

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  • Manuel Bohn
  • Michael Henry Tessler
  • Clara Kordt
  • Tom Hausmann
  • Michael C. Frank

Pragmatic abilities are fundamental to successful language use and learning. Individual differences studies contribute to understanding the psychological processes involved in pragmatic reasoning. Small sample sizes, insufficient measurement tools, and a lack of theoretical precision have hindered progress, however. Three studies addressed these challenges in three- to 5-year-old German-speaking children (N = 228, 121 female). Studies 1 and 2 assessed the psychometric properties of six pragmatics tasks. Study 3 investigated relations among pragmatics tasks and between pragmatics and other cognitive abilities. The tasks were found to measure stable variation between individuals. Via a computational cognitive model, individual differences were traced back to a latent pragmatics construct. This presents the basis for understanding the relations between pragmatics and other cognitive abilities. Research Highlights: Individual differences in pragmatic abilities are important to understanding variation in language development. Research in this domain lacks a precise theoretical framework and psychometrically high-quality measures. We present six tasks capturing a wide range of pragmatic abilities with excellent re-test reliability. We use a computational cognitive model to provide a substantive theory of individual differences in pragmatic abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13401
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number6
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 11.2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are very thankful to Stella Christie for sharing the material for the relational match‐to‐sample task with us. M. Bohn received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska‐Curie grant agreement no. 749229. M. H. Tessler was funded by the National Science Foundation SBE Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Grant No. 1911790. M. C. Frank was supported by a Jacobs Foundation Advanced Research Fellowship and the Zhou Fund for Language and Cognition. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Developmental Science published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.