Date of Completion

Spring 5-14-2020

Thesis Advisor(s)

Dr. Umay Suanda

Honors Major

Cognitive Science


Developmental Psychology | Psychology


A wealth of research has shown that reading picture books supports several aspects of young children’s learning and development. In this thesis, we explore the hypothesis that the power of picture books is in part due to their referentially transparent nature. To test this possibility, we designed a picture-book version of the Human Simulation Paradigm (HSP), an experimental paradigm previously used to quantify the referential transparency of child-directed speech in parent-child interactions. Adult participants (N = 18) were presented with pages from children’s picture books (with text blocked out) and asked to identify either the nouns or the verbs on that page. Our analyses focused on (1) how referential transparency in picture books compared to that of parent-child conversations, (2) how referential transparency differed across word types (i.e. nouns vs. verbs), and (3) whether referential transparency differed as a function of book age-range (i.e., targeting younger vs. older children). Contrary to our hypotheses, picture books were actually less referentially transparent than child-directed speech. We also found that noun transparency was greater than verb transparency, and that transparency did not vary as a function of target age groups. Ongoing research in our laboratory is using these pilot data to further investigate referential transparency in children’s picture books specifically, and how children’s picture books support learning more generally.