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Cognitive and environmental factors during school-aged development and their relation to electrophysiological signatures of spoken sentence comprehension.

Poster B103 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Julie Schneider1, Jacob Momsen2,3; 1Louisiana State University, 2University of California San Diego, 3San Diego State University

Real-time language comprehension is a fast-paced, complex task that is contingent upon the ability to readily retrieve and integrate phonological, semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic information instantaneously. The development of adult-like sentence comprehension skills is prolonged, continuing through age 12 or later (Schneider et al., 2016, 2018; Atchley et al., 2006; Friederici & Hahne, 2001); the trajectory of which is influenced by general language abilities, working memory, and a child’s home environment (e.g., Schneider et al., 2023; Pexman & Yap, 2018; Troyer & Borovsky, 2017; Boudewyn et al., 2013; Brauer & Friederici, 2007). It remains unknown though how these cognitive and environmental factors constrain the neural processes underlying sentence comprehension during the school years. In the current study we address this question by examining how individual differences in general language ability, working memory, and home environment relate to the engagement of neural processes which are critical for real-time language comprehension among 68 school-aged children (ages 8-12 years; M = 11.02, SD = 2.01, 33 females). Children’s EEG was recorded as they listened to 160 semantically correct and incorrect naturally paced sentences and completed an acceptability judgment task. All sentences included an inanimate noun paired with a modal verb and action verb (i.e., Outside in the garden, the hose can spray water on the flowers; Schneider & Maguire, 2018). General language ability was measured using the CELF-5 Core Language Score (Wiig, Semel & Secord, 2013), working memory with the Digit Span (Blackburn & Benton, 1957) and home environment with the Confusion, Hubbub, and Order Scale (CHAOS; Matheny et al., 1995). EEG data was epoched from 1000 msec before to 2000 msec after the target verb onset (spray in the above example). Trials with incorrect responses on the acceptability judgment task were removed from the analysis. Time-frequency representations (TFRs) associated with target verb processing (200-800 msec post word onset) were calculated using a single taper Hanning window across a frequency range of 2-30 Hz. TFRs were then decibel corrected using a 500 msec window prior to the onset of the target verb. An independent samples cluster-based regression permutation test was performed to identify subject-level relationships between EEG associated with sentence processing and metrics related to three individual differences measures: general language ability, working memory and home environment. The results of our cluster-based regression permutation test indicate working memory, but not general language ability or home environment, is related to neural engagement during processing of semantically correct sentences in school-aged children. Children with higher working memory scores were more likely to engage theta at widespread midline electrodes (4.8-9.0 Hz; Cluster-level t = 521.93, p = 0.02) and lower beta at bilateral frontocentral electrodes (Cluster-level t = 366.98, p = 0.04). Increases in theta and beta are thought to underlie different aspects of semantic retrieval and integration (Schneider et al., 2016; Schneider & Maguire, 2018). These findings indicate domain-general cognitive skills, above and beyond language ability and home environment, are associated with specific neural indices critical for spoken sentence comprehension during middle to late childhood.

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

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