Date of Degree

9-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences

Advisor

Klara Marton

Committee Members

Richard Schwartz

Naomi Eichorn

Mira Goral

Bruce Homer

Subject Categories

Cognitive Psychology | First and Second Language Acquisition | Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics

Keywords

Second Language Processing, N-back

Abstract

This study used a cognitive training paradigm to explore whether the same mechanisms of working memory underly conflict resolution in non-verbal and verbal domains in adult English language learners.The association between an individual’s Working Memory (WM) performance and their success in skills such as interference control, decision-making and language processing has been repeatedly highlighted by researchers in cognitive psychology and linguistic fields. Particularly, acquisition and use of a second language is one life experience in which WM ability seems valuable. However, when this association is put to the test in studies that train participants’ WM and measure transfer of these training effects to performance on tasks in nonverbal and verbal domains, results are inconsistent. The present study selected one theoretical framework of WM to inform the development of an adaptive training paradigm designed to target specific WM mechanisms. The same framework was then used to select appropriate tasks for a pre and post-test battery; each of these called upon the trained mechanisms through specific task manipulations of stimuli in nonlinguistic and linguistic contexts. Thirty adults enrolled in an English language learning course participated in the study. Fifteen adults in the control group completed a battery of five tests: a nonverbal cue-based retrieval task, a word categorization task, an English ambiguous sentence processing task and an English reading comprehension task. Fifteen adults in the experimental group completed the same test battery before and after twelve thirty-minute WM training sessions. Evaluation of accuracy and reaction time performance on the testing battery revealed that the control and experimental group performed similarly at baseline. Further, the experimental group showed significant improvement on conditions of the cue-based retrieval task, the word categorization task and the sentence processing task that were related to the mechanisms targeted in the WM training. This group did not show any improvement on the reading comprehension task. These findings suggest that the relationship between WM and performance on complex cognitive tasks in both the nonverbal and verbal domain can be leveraged through a process-specific, adaptive training paradigm. They also suggest that improvements in WM performance can positively affect some, but not all aspects of second language performance in adult learners.

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