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The role of sustained attention in the production of conjoined noun phrases: An individual differences study

Jongman, S. R., Meyer, A. S., & Roelofs, A. (2015). The role of sustained attention in the production of conjoined noun phrases: An individual differences study. PLoS One, 10(9): e0137557. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137557.
It has previously been shown that language production, performed simultaneously with a nonlinguistic task, involves sustained attention. Sustained attention concerns the ability to maintain alertness over time. Here, we aimed to replicate the previous finding by showing that individuals call upon sustained attention when they plan single noun phrases (e.g., "the carrot") and perform a manual arrow categorization task. In addition, we investigated whether speakers also recruit sustained attention when they produce conjoined noun phrases (e.g., "the carrot and the bucket") describing two pictures, that is, when both the first and second task are linguistic. We found that sustained attention correlated with the proportion of abnormally slow phrase-production responses. Individuals with poor sustained attention displayed a greater number of very slow responses than individuals with better sustained attention. Importantly, this relationship was obtained both for the production of single phrases while performing a nonlinguistic manual task, and the production of noun phrase conjunctions in referring to two spatially separated objects. Inhibition and updating abilities were also measured. These scores did not correlate with our measure of sustained attention, suggesting that sustained attention and executive control are distinct. Overall, the results suggest that planning conjoined noun phrases involves sustained attention, and that language production happens less automatically than has often been assumed.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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