Memory encoding of syntactic information involves domain-general attentional resources. Evidence from dual-task studies

We investigate the type of attention (domain-general or language-specific) used during syntactic processing. We focus on syntactic priming: In this task, participants listen to a sentence that describes a picture (prime sentence), followed by a picture the participants need to describe (target sentence). We measure the proportion of times participants use the syntactic structure they heard in the prime sentence to describe the current target sentence as a measure of syntactic processing. Participants simultaneously conducted a motion-object tracking (MOT) task, a task commonly used to tax domain-general attentional resources. We manipulated the number of objects the participant had to track; we thus measured participants’ ability to process syntax while their attention is not-, slightly-, or overly-taxed. Performance in the MOT task was significantly worse when conducted as a dual-task compared to as a single task. We observed an inverted U-shaped curve on priming magnitude when conducting the MOT task concurrently with prime sentences (i.e., memory encoding), but no effect when conducted with target sentences (i.e., memory retrieval). Our results illustrate how, during the encoding of syntactic information, domain-general attention differentially affects syntactic processing, whereas during the retrieval of syntactic information domain-general attention does not influence syntactic processing
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date
2019

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