Validation Study: DEN - Developmental Evaluation of Naming

S. Travellini, M. Cerasetti, A. Marcelli, M. Vernice, M. Berlingeri


Language is a complex, multi-faceted cognitive ability and naming is one of the fundamental components that offers the possibility of early identification of developmental deficit. A slowdown in lexical production may underlie either domain-specific or disease-related difficulties. Accordingly, an accurate evaluation and monitoring overtime of this competence are necessary.

We aim at:

  • standardizing a computerized lexical oral naming test (DEN test; DEN- Developmental Evaluation of Naming), to be administered online to children aged from 24 months to 13 years and 11 months. Accordingly, we selected a series of pictures divided into blocks according to the increasing age of acquisition (AoA), frequency of use, and controlling for visual complexity to limit floor/ceiling effects. The aim was to obtain a tool capable of detecting the effect of age on lexical retrieval and naming skills while controlling for cognitive dimensions such as semantics and visual perception;

  • creating a culture fair test, targeting not only monolingual children, but also minority language speakers and multilanguage children by selecting pictures with high name-agreement criteria between several European Countries from the open access standardized database Multilanguage Picture (Duñabeitia et al., 2018);

  • verifying whether the language gap between monolingual and minority language children decreases as age increases;

  • developing normative data to identify children with a language deficit or slowdown;

  • validating our test on a clinical sample.

Preliminary data

As a first step, we run a pilot study on primary school children (1st, 2nd, 3rd grade), recording both the accuracy level and the response time “in person”; the preliminary results showed:

  • increased response time as the test proceeds, to indicate that progression of stimuli according to AoA was effective;

  • a class effect (χ22=10.0; p=.007): accuracy increases from the 1st to the 3rd grade, regardless of gender;

  • a lower number of semantic paraphasias and higher response times in older children consistent with the maturation of the lexical-semantic and the control system.

Methods and materials

First, parents must compile informed consent forms (Fig1a) and an anamnestic questionnaire (Fig1b), created on Google Form, reporting general information about children’s birth, development, language use and experience and information about their parents’ education. Secondly, the child and his/her parent(s) are invited into a videocall (Fig1c) to perform the DEN test and parents are instructed to supervise the test and never interfere with the child’s performance. A character, Nino the goldfish (Figure1f), appears on the screen to give oral instructions about the test to the child. The test starts with 7 practice trials and offers the chance to pause stimuli presentation by pressing the key “P” on the keyboard if the child shows fatigue or emotional distress. The presentation of the target pictures (Fig1g) (n=46) is temporized (max 30s) and alternated by a fixation point (Fig1h) and a sound.

Fig1. Representation of the procedure

The test performance is encoded according to four different scores (accuracy, lexical, semantic, visual score). Canonically, naming tests encoded the participants’ response according to the accuracy level. However, in the early phase of the development, a child may not accurately name an item, even though s/he perfectly recognizes the item itself. Accordingly, we developed three categories of scores:

  1. a lexical score that allow us to disentangle, in the early phases of development, those children that have already acquired a stable mental representation of the object, but not its correct phonological form (e.g., TENO instead of TRENO (train));

  2. a visual score that permits to take into account those errors that are visually-based (e.g. TORRE (tower) instead of FARO (lighthouse));

  3. a semantic score that allows to consider and quantify semantic errors.

The adoption of these scores will allow us to better explore the developmental trajectories of naming abilities.

Moreover, we will also provide a detailed error classification according to psycholinguistics categories (e.g., phoneme deletion, semantic error).
The DEN test was developed by means of the JsPsych programming environment and uploaded in an open-access repository, Pavlovia (Fig1d) (
The audio track of the call is recorded with the software Audacity (Fig1e) to allow off-line scoring and error identification.
The test lasts about 15-20 minutes plus an extra 10 minutes for instructions and test presentation.

Sample Size

The sample size is in line with the normative sample sizes typically reported for Italian clinical tests. Six-Monthly age groups are planned for the earliest stages of development (from 24 months to 4 years and 11 months), while for subsequent ages, participants will be enrolled annually (from 5 years to 13 years and 11 months):

a) Monolingual Subjects: 20 (10 M and 10 F) for each group, for a total of 300 subjects

b) Bi- or multilingual Subjects: 10 (5 M, 5 F) for each group, for a total of 150 subjects

c) Clinical sample: 50 subjects with a diagnosis of Language Disorder

Total Sample Size: 500 subjects

Study Costs

Each test costs 0,20£. Therefore, we will need at least 100£ to collect the data for the entire sample.

Additionally, as each test might last up to 30 minutes, one need to consider at least 250 hours of testing plus 90 minutes of man-hour values for coding each test session, for data entering and analysis (corresponding in total to 750 hours).

This sums up to a total of 1000 man-hours that could be covered with a part-time grant lasting 12 months. A research grant of 9040£ will cover the budget for testing (100£) and man-hour expenses.

Evidence of Preregistration

The pre-registration of our study has been already submitted to under the title “Validation Study: DEN - Developmental Evaluation of Naming”.

Openly Available

We will make available raw data collected both for the pilot for the online experiment on the github platform.


Duñabeitia, J. A., Crepaldi, D., Meyer, A. S., New, B., Pliatsikas, C., Smolka, E., & Brysbaert, M. (2018). Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(4), 808–816. SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research