Priming Sentence Comprehension in Older Adults

Emily Hosokawa, Purdue University


Syntactic priming is thought to reflect ongoing language learning processes throughout the life span. However, little is known on if and how the mechanisms of syntactic priming change in aging. This study examined whether syntactic priming influences sentence comprehension in healthy older adults and whether such effects occur independently of, or in conjunction with, lexically specific (verb) information. We further examined if older adults show persisting priming effects. Twenty older adults completed a written sentence-picture matching task involving the interpretation of prepositional phrases (the chef is poking the solider with an umbrella) that were ambiguous between high and low attachment in immediate (0-lag, Experiment 1) and delayed (2-lag, Experiment 2) priming. After reading a prime sentence with a particular interpretation, older adults tended to interpret an ambiguous prepositional phrase in a target sentence in the same way. The priming effect persisted over two intervening fillers. However, the priming effect was not enhanced by verb overlap between a prime and a target sentence, unlike what has been shown in young adults. These results show that implicit error-based abstract structural priming is preserved and persists in aging, whereas explicit memory-based lexically specific priming is absent in sentence comprehension by older adults




Lee, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Speech therapy

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