Executive Function Predicts Artificial Language Learning in Children and Adults
Kapa, Leah Lynn
University of Kansas
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Prior research has established an executive function advantage among bilinguals as compared to monolingual peers. These non-linguistic cognitive advantages are largely assumed to result from the experience of managing two linguistic systems. However, the possibility remains that the relationship between bilingualism and executive function is bidirectional such that experience with two languages improves executive functioning, but also, individuals with better executive function skills are improved language learners. The goal of the current studies was to test whether executive function abilities predict novel artificial language learning outcomes among children and adults. An artificial language was used to simulate the processes involved in natural language learning within a controlled laboratory setting. In Study 1, monolingual preschool children's executive function was assessed using the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, a visual Simon task, and the Attention Network Test (ANT). Their performance on these tasks was used to predict their success in acquiring expressive and receptive knowledge of a small artificial language system. Study 2 examined how college-age adults' executive function performance (Wisconsin Card Sort, Simon task, ANT) predicted artificial language learning outcomes. After controlling for working memory and English receptive vocabulary, executive function scores positively predicted children's receptive vocabulary performance and adults' ability to produce labels and sentences in the artificial language system. These findings provide initial evidence suggesting that executive function processes may be employed during the early stages of language learning and support the possibility of a bidirectional relationship between executive function and language acquisition.
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