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Semantic priming and working memory in monolingual and bilingual infants


Junge,  Caroline
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Ebanks, N., Mills, D., Junge, C., Rowe, C., Wildegger, T., Guilhem, E., et al. (2011). Semantic priming and working memory in monolingual and bilingual infants. Poster presented at CNS 2011 - 18th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS), San Francisco, CA.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0011-3D48-F
The extent to which domain general processes contribute to language development is a central question in developmental science. Behavioral research suggests that memory development plays an important role in the rapid vocabulary changes typically observed between 13- and 20-months. It has been suggested that bilingual adults have improved working memory abilities compared to monolinguals as a function of increased frontal lobe function. The present study tests the hypothesis that bilingual infants will show enhanced sematic priming effects compared to monolingual infants as a result of improved working memory abilities. An event-related potential (ERP) semantic priming paradigm was adapted for use with infants to elicit the N400 component. Infant participants 14-, 17-, 20- and 30-months of age heard a word that was immediately followed by a picture. The word prime either named the subsequent picture (match) or was the name for another picture (mismatch). This paradigm requires the infant to hold the word in mind and compare it to the subsequent picture to show a priming effect. A larger N400 was expected in trials where there was a mismatch between the word-picture pair. Consistent with previous findings, the size of the N400 effect in monolingual infants was linked to vocabulary size. That is, only more experienced word learners showed an N400 effect. When holding vocabulary size constant, the bilingual infants showed a more mature N400 effect than monolingual infants across all ages. This enhanced N400 word-picture effect is interpreted as the result of increased working memory abilities in bilingual infants.