Memory encoding of syntactic information involves domain-general attentional resources: evidence from dual-task studies

Evelien Heyselaar, Katrien Segaert

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Abstract

We investigate the type of attention (domain-general or language-specific) used during syntactic processing. We focus on syntactic priming: In this task, participants listen to a sentence that describes a picture (prime sentence), followed by a picture the participants need to describe (target sentence). We measure the proportion of times participants use the syntactic structure they heard in the prime sentence to describe the current target sentence as a measure of syntactic processing. Participants simultaneously conducted a motion-object tracking (MOT) task, a task commonly used to tax domain-general attentional resources. We manipulated the number of objects the participant had to track; we thus measured participants’ ability to process syntax while their attention is not taxed, slightly taxed, or overly taxed. Performance in the MOT task was significantly worse when conducted as a dual task compared with as a single task. We observed an inverted U-shaped curve on priming magnitude when conducting the MOT task concurrently with prime sentences (i.e., memory encoding), but no effect when conducted with target sentences (i.e., memory retrieval). Our results illustrate how, during the encoding of syntactic information, domain-general attention differentially affects syntactic processing, whereas during the retrieval of syntactic information, domain-general attention does not influence syntactic processing.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Early online date28 Sep 2018
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Sep 2018

Keywords

  • Dual task
  • attentional resources
  • language;
  • syntactic priming
  • MOT

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