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Age of Acquisition and The Embodiment of Language

Poster B102 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Keith O'Donnell1, Prof. Sean Commins1, Dr. Patricia Gough2; 1Department of Psychology, Maynooth University, 2School of Psychology, University College Dublin

Background/Introduction: Theories of language embodiment typically propose that language and action are inter-related. Age of Acquisition (AoA) effects refer to the findings that words, phrases, and concepts learned early in life (i.e., before approximately 7 years old) are recognised and responded to more quickly than stimuli learned after this period (Brysbaert et al., 2000). However, AoA is a factor that does not appear to have been considered in many language embodiment studies; thus, whether or not AoA influences motor activity during language processing is not entirely clear. Additionally, the degree (if any) to which participant age attenuates the semantic processing of motor-related language remains an open question. Method: Using samples of younger adults (aged 18-44, N = 40) and older adults (aged 50-65, N = 40), the current experiment tested the effect of AoA on motor responses to motor-related language while also controlling for word frequency. Participants in both groups undertook a lexical decision task (LDT) – requiring a hand response to real words and no response to pseudo words. Words were grouped via AoA (early: learned before aged 7 years old vs. late: learned after aged 7 years old), Hand Relatedness (hand related vs. non-hand related), and Frequency (high frequency vs. low frequency), and response times (RTs) were the outcome variable. Results: For the younger sample, a significant interaction effect was found between AoA and Hand Relatedness; hand-related language learned early in life (early AoA) elicited quicker hand responses than non-hand related language learned early. However, hand-related language learned late in life (late AoA) elicited slower hand responses than non-hand related language learned late in life. With the older adult sample, a large significant main effect for AoA was found, but no significant interaction between AoA and Hand Relatedness was found. Discussion/conclusion: In relation to younger adults (i.e., aged 18-44), embodied language effects may only apply to early learned language (i.e., learned before approximately 7 years old). Moreover, this effect appears to be attenuated by participants` age, as the result was not replicated with older adults (i.e., aged 50-65). Taken together, the findings suggest that embodied effects could be related to factors such as AoA and to the age of participants. Accordingly, future research should aim to control for both factors.

Topic Areas: Language Development/Acquisition, Meaning: Lexical Semantics

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