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Pienie Zwitserlood, Monday, March 24

Behavioural and neural correlates of learning novel words

Pienie Zwitserlood
Institute for Psychology, Westfälische-Wilhelms-Universität Münster


Language learning in adulthood becomes more and more of a necessity in times of globalisation and increasing mobility. Concentrating on vocabulary, we investigated how novel words can be acquired with associative learning, and the cognitive and neural changes accompanying such learning. Associative learning mimics naturalistic learning situations. It constitutes a powerful training method in which to-be-learned novel words are coupled with existing concepts (for objects, actions, colors) more frequently than word/concept combinations that should not be learned. We demonstrated that large quantities and different types of new vocabulary – nouns,  verbs, color words - can be acquired with this method, and that once learned, the novel words display characteristics very similar to words from one’s native language.
We validated word-learning success by means of behavioural data from priming and Stroop tasks, and assessed the neurophysiological correlates with MEG. The component of interest is the N400m, the magnetoencephalographic counterpart of the N400, as an index for semantic (in)congruency and/or the ease of access to conceptual knowledge. Compared to existing words as primes, novel words induced large M400 components before learning, but this amplitude was reduced after learning. Importantly, the N400 was reduced only when novel words and concepts matched. Depending on the type of concepts for which new names were learned, different neural networks were involved in the integration of novel information into existing lexical and semantic networks.

Where and when:
15:45-17:00 Mar 24, 2014
Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (Colloquium Room), Kapittelweg 29, 6525 EN Nijmegen

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