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Auditory associative word learning in adults: the effects of musical experience and stimulus ordering

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Poster A20 in Poster Session A, Tuesday, October 24, 10:15 am - 12:00 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Samuel H. Cosper1, Claudia Männel2,3, Jutta L. Mueller4; 1Technische Universität Dresden, 2Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, 3Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 4University of Vienna

Word learning is imperative to language development. While much of word learning occurs in infancy and childhood, adults still learn new words. Previous experiments of associative word learning in adults have explored the interaction between object modality and temporal congruency of objects and their labels in the visual and auditory domains. Learning was more effective in the visual modality than in the auditory modality for both sequential and simultaneous temporal congruencies. Auditory associative word learning, that is learning the label of a sound, was only successful with simultaneous stimulus presentation, but not with sequential presentation when the label followed a sound. Here we investigate whether and how this difficulty can be overcome by exploring the effects of i) auditory expertise and ii) sequential order modulations between labels and sounds. We tested auditory associative word learning in two experiments with sequential stimulus presentation, while participants were given a congruency-judgement task and their EEG was recorded. The first experiment focused on the role of auditory expertise, testing auditorily trained musicians versus athletes as a high-level control group. The second experiment focused on stimulus ordering, testing for effects of auditory stimulus saliency in sound-label versus label-sound ordering. Participants in the first experiment were presented with environmental sounds followed by pseudoword labels (after a 600 ms-pause) in consistent and inconsistent combinations during a training phase. Testing phases presented matching pairs (consistent pairings of the training) and violated pairs (sounds and labels from the consistent pairings of the training in novel combinations). While no EEG effects of sound-label association (difference in label processing between consistent and inconsistent pairs) emerged in the training phases of either participant group, musicians (n = 23) showed a positive-going EEG effect to violated compared to matching pairs in the testing phases – yet without any above-chance judgement performance. The athlete group (n = 24) replicated previous findings of processing difficulties in adults with auditory-sequential associative word learning, showing no significant behavioral or EEG effects of sound-label association. The second experiment was similar in design as the first experiment, yet participants heard the stimulus pairs either in sound-label ordering or label-sound ordering. The sound-label group (n = 22) showed a negative-going EEG effect for inconsistent versus consistent pairings during training, but no behavioral or EEG effects of association learning at test. In contrast, the label-sound group (n = 23) did not show any effects during training, but a negative-going EEG effect to violated compared to matching pairs in the testing phases, accompanied by an above-chance detection performance. From our results, we propose that adults have an advantage in auditory associative word learning if they are highly auditorily trained and an advantage when they can first focus on the label, before the labelled sound is presented. This underlines that associative word learning is not only influenced by statistical co-occurrence but also by additional factors that are related to the saliency of the labelled objects and modality-specific expertise.

Topic Areas: Meaning: Lexical Semantics,

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