Gomez, R. L., Bootzin, R. R., & Nadel, L. (2006). Naps
promote abstraction in language-learning infants. Psychological Science, 17(8).
Infants accomplish an incredible amount of learning during
their waking hours. However, as many parents may know, infants spend most of
their day asleep. It is possible that sleep is very important for an infant’s
cognitive and linguistic development. The present study investigated infant’s
learning of an artificial language following either a period of sleep or
wakefulness, and compared learning across groups. The results demonstrated that
naps promote a qualitative change in infants’ learning.
Infants, although not yet fluent in their native language,
are well on their way to acquiring language. Indeed, past research using
artificial language paradigms has shown that infants are incredibly adept at
uncovering the regularities within speech. In the present study, infants were
familiarized with a language comprised of nonadjacent dependencies. Such a
structure requires participants to track the dependencies between the first and
third element, for example: pel-wadim-jic, or pel-kicey-jic. Here, the
first nonsense word predicts the third, and the middle nonsense word can vary.
This structure is also evident within English where there is a dependency
between an auxiliary and an inflection with an intervening verb, for example: is playing.
The artificial language study was composed of 48 nonadjacent
dependency strings (e.g.: pel-X-jic). Infants in the experimental
condition heard each string 5 times in a familiarization phase. Infants were
tested on their knowledge of strings from the familiarization phase, and novel
strings that followed the same nonadjacent dependency rule. Testing took place
four hours after the familiarization phase. During the four-hour break, infants
either took a nap or stayed awake. Results demonstrated that infants who took a
nap between the familiarization and test phase were better able to abstract the
nonadjacenet dependency rule to novel stimuli. Infants who did not take a nap
demonstrated memory for nonadjacent word pairs from the familiarization phase,
but not novel items. It might be that infants who took a nap learned the
“relationship in general” between the first and third word strings. This
ability to abstract from a rule and apply it to novel situations is an
essential process in language and cognitive development, and results from this study
suggest that sleep may play an important role in this process.
Blogger: Nicolette Noonan, PhD Student
Posted By Project Coordinator to The Canadian SLP
at 3/05/2015 01:05:00 PM