Abstracts of the talks planned for the kickoff workshop will be posted here shortly.

 

Jarrad Lum (Deakin University Australia)

Evidence has been presented showing procedural learning problems are present in some children with specific language impairment. Our research group has begun to investigate what types of interventions exist that might be able to improve this aspect of cognitive functioning. In this keynote, results from studies examining the nature of procedural learning problems in specific language impairment is first presented. Non-invasive brain stimulation is then introduced as a method that could improve procedural learning skills. Results from recently completed studies is presented that tested whether non-invasive brain stimulation can facilitate procedural learning and language processing in healthy adults. While it is currently not appropriate to use non-invasive brain stimulation for the treatment of language problems in neurodevelopmental disorders, with more research this approach might turn out to be a useful adjunct in combination with standard treatment.

 

Arve Asbjørnsen (University of Bergen) Variability and the learning of noun gender marking

In this experiment we investigated the effect of input variability on learning of noun gender markings in an unfamiliar, natural language. Input variability is known to assist learning of other grammatical forms. Forty adults (20 men, 20 women) were familiarized with examples of masculine and feminine Russian words. Half of the participants were familiarized in a high-variability condition with 32 different root words. The other half were familiarized in a high-repetition condition with 16 different root words, each repeated twice for a total of 32 presentations. Participants were tested on untrained members of the gender categories to assess generalization. Familiarization and testing was completed totally three times. Only participants in the high variability group showed evidence of learning after an initial period of familiarization. Participants in the high-repetition group showed signs of learning after additional input. Both groups showed increased learning for double marked compared to single marked nouns. The results demonstrate that the degree of input variability can influence learners’ ability to generalize a grammatical subcategory (noun gender) from a natural language. In addition, the presence of multiple cues to linguistic subcategory facilitated learning independent of variability condition.

 

Desiree Capel (Utrecht University) Infants with and without a familial risk of dyslexia differ in sequential learning in the visuospatial domain

Developmental dyslexia is characterized by problems in learning to read and/or write, but broader language difficulties and difficulties in other cognitive domains (e.g. the auditory, motor, visual domain) have also been reported. These deficits have been attributed to an impaired procedural learning system (Nicolson and Fawcett, 2007), which may specifically affect sequential learning – a specific type of implicit statistical learning by which patterns are detected in sequences of stimuli. Expectations are that a deficit in sequential learning (i) surfaces before children learn to read, i.e. in infants at family risk of dyslexia and (ii) should be domain-general, i.e., also surfaces in non-language domains. In an eye-tracking study with 8-month-old infants we tested typically-developing (TD) infants and infants at family risk (FR) of dyslexia (i.e. infants with a dyslexic parent) on sequential learning in the visuospatial domain, based on Kirkham et al. (2007). Infants were exposed to a continuous sequence consisting of three pairs of color-shape-location combinations on a Tobii-1750 eye-tracking screen. Each pair of color-shape-locations could be followed by itself or one of the other two pairs (33% transitional probability, TP33). Within a pair, the transition was 100% certain (TP100). The test phase consisted of six alternating familiar test trials and novel test trials, that were made up of the same three pairs of shapes, but now appearing in random locations, thereby disrupting the statistical structure of the sequence of locations. Sequential learning was reflected by (1) decreasing dwell latencies over blocks, (2) shorter dwell latencies for TP33 than TP100 transitions, which is opposite to findings by Kirkham et al. (2007). A Group*TP interaction indicated that the effect of TP was only present for the FR group. Results of the test phase show (3) longer looking times to novel test trials than to familiar test trials.  These results indicate successful sequential learning in both groups of infants. The finding that only FR infants showed a difference in dwell latencies between different TP transitions may, however, reflect a delayed trajectory in sequential learning. The present study provides the first indication that sequential learning in the visuospatial domain is different in 8-month-old FR infants as compared to TD infants. The findings will be discussed in light of the procedural deficit hypothesis.

 

Jurgen Tijms (University of Amsterdam) Dynamic assessment of developmental dyslexia

Research suggests that a failure to develop automated letter-speech sound associations acts as a proximal cause for the impairment of fluent reading in dyslexia. In order to gain further understanding of this disrupted learning process, we started a project that examines the role of implicit, associative learning of letter-speech sound mappings in the acquisition of fluent reading skills. From this project, the results of studies addressing the dynamic assessment of this learning process in children with (a familial risk for) dyslexia are presented.

For the dynamic assessment, we developed a game in which artificial letter-speech sound mappings are learned during a short period of gameplay, and the quality of the learned letter speech sound mappings as well as their instrumental use in fluent reading (in this artificial orthography) were tested. Our results revealed differences in associative learning between children with dyslexia and typical readers, as well as between preliterate children at risk for dyslexia and their peers with no familial-risk.