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Developmental differences in visual and auditory processing of complex sentences


Booth JRJ R , MacWhinney BB , Harasaki YY . Child development. 2000 ; 71(4). 981-1003


Children aged 8 through 11 (N = 250) were given a word-by-word sentence task in both the visual and auditory modes. The sentences included an object relative clause, a subject relative clause, or a conjoined verb phrase. Each sentence was followed by a true-false question, testing the subject of either the first or second verb. Participants were also given two memory span measures: digit span and reading span. High digit span children slowed down more at the transition from the main to the relative clause than did the low digit span children. The findings suggest the presence of a U-shaped learning pattern for on-line processing of restrictive relative clauses. Off-line accuracy scores showed different patterns for good comprehenders and poor comprehenders. Poor comprehenders answered the second verb questions at levels that were consistently below chance. Their answers were based on an incorrect local attachment strategy that treated the second noun as the subject of the second verb. For example, they often answered yes to the question “The girl chases the policeman” after the object relative sentence “The boy that the girl sees chases the policeman.” Interestingly, low memory span poor comprehenders used the local attachment strategy less consistently than high memory span poor comprehenders, and all poor comprehenders used this strategy less consistently for harder than for easier sentences.