Monday, March 9, 2015

Sentence Processing

Nemeth, D., Janacsek, K., Csifcsak, G., Szvoboda, G., Howard, J. H., & Howard, D. V. (2011). Interference between sentence processing and probabilistic implicit sequence learning. PLoS One, 6 (3).

The present study investigated whether sentences are processed via a language-specific mechanism, or a domain-general mechanism. The authors differentiated between two theories in the literature that account for how humans process sentences. The first is a “dual systems” theory, which suggests that humans possess two distinct systems that process language: The declarative system, which is responsible for learning words, and the procedural system, which is responsible for learning sequences, such as the learning of grammar. The second is a “single system” theory, which suggests that words and grammar are learned by the same non-language specific system. This system relies on the learning of the statistically predictable regularities within language.

To investigate whether sentences are processed by a domain-specific or domain-general system, the authors used a dual task paradigm. Participants completed a non-linguistic Alternating Serial Reaction Time (ASRT) task, which involved the learning of a non-linguistic sequence. While completing the ASRT task, participants were concurrently engaged in a sentence-processing task (linguistic), a word recognition task (linguistic control), or a mathematical addition task (non-linguistic control). The authors hypothesized that learning within the ASRT task would be diminished by concurrent engagement in the sentence-processing task, which would suggest that both tasks involve a domain-general sequence learning mechanism

The main finding was that engagement in the sentence-processing task reduced sequence learning in the ASRT task. It was interesting that the mathematics task did not diminish learning, as it was the most difficult of the concurrent tasks. This result suggested that the interference between the sentence processing and ASRT task was not due to task difficulty. Overall, the authors suggested that sentence processing involves a domain-general sequence learning mechanism.

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