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Poster A66, Wednesday, November 8, 10:30 – 11:45 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Context-dependent filtering in the caudate nucleus of the basal ganglia as a predictor of second-language learning aptitude

Jose M. Ceballos1,2, Brianna L. Yamasaki1,2, Chantel S. Prat1,2;1University of Washington, 2Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences

Existing research has demonstrated that adults who are better able to extract relevant linguistic cues during L2 learning show better long-term L2 learning outcomes (Miyake & Friedman, 1998). The basal ganglia, a set of interconnected subcortical nuclei, have been identified as key structures for the filtering of contextually relevant information in and out of prefrontal cortex (PFC: Stocco, Lebiere & Anderson, 2010; Cohen & Frank, 2009). Furthermore, successful behavioral performance has been demonstrated to be mediated by the selective coding of task-relevant information by PFC (Duncan, 2010). Based on this research, we hypothesized that individual differences in basal ganglia functioning during a filtering paradigm would successfully predict L2 learning aptitude. To test this prediction, we modified an information-filtering task (Thompson & Duncan, 2009) in which individuals were asked to track one of two semantic features of words presented serially, based on a context-establishing instruction phase. Twenty subjects performed this task while fMRI data were acquired. Subsequently, subjects underwent an eight-week L2 learning period using an immersive French instruction software (Prat, Yamasaki, Kluender & Stocco, 2016). A region of interest (ROI) analysis for the basal ganglia left hemisphere regions of the caudate, putamen, and subthalamic nucleus was conducted in order to relate activity in these brain regions to L2 learning outcomes. Results from the ROI analysis revealed that caudate activation significantly predicted L2 learning outcomes. Specifically, the results revealed a negative correlation between caudate activation during instructions and average quiz accuracy [r(20) = -0.55, p = 0.015]. These results suggest that individuals with lower L2 learning aptitude rely more heavily on the caudate nucleus in the instruction phase of the filtering task, during which the trial-relevant filtering context is established. In other words, higher L2 learning individuals relied less heavily on signaling from the caudate in order to establish coding selectivity of task-relevant information in PFC structures, possibly due to higher neural efficiency in fronto-striatal dynamics. Overall, this study furthers the field’s understanding of the often-understudied fronto-striatal network in L2 acquisition, and provides support for an account of skilled L2 learning that is dependent on fronto-striatal context-setting and filtering operations. Cohen, M. X., & Frank, M. J. (2009). Neurocomputational models of basal ganglia function in learning, memory and choice. Behavioural brain research, 199(1), 141-156. Duncan, J. (2010). The multiple-demand (MD) system of the primate brain: mental programs for intelligent behaviour. Trends in cognitive sciences, 14(4), 172-179. Miyake, A., & Friedman, N. P. (1998). Individual differences in second language proficiency: Working memory as language aptitude. Foreign language learning: Psycholinguistic studies on training and retention, 339-364. Prat, C. S., Yamasaki, B. L., Kluender, R. A., & Stocco, A. (2016). Resting-state qEEG predicts rate of second language learning in adults. Brain and Language, 157, 44-50. Stocco, A., Lebiere, C., & Anderson, J. R. (2010). Conditional routing of information to the cortex: A model of the basal ganglia’s role in cognitive coordination. Psychological Review, 117(2), 541. Thompson, R., & Duncan, J. (2009). Attentional modulation of stimulus representation in human fronto-parietal cortex. Neuroimage, 48(2), 436-448.

Topic Area: Multilingualism

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