Memory encoding of syntactic information involves domain-general attentional resources. Evidence from dual-task studies
Heyselaar, E., & Segaert, K.
Memory encoding of syntactic information involves domain-general attentional resources. Evidence from dual-task studies. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 72
(6), 1285-1296. doi:10.1177/1747021818801249.
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