New paper out: Introducing the Infant Bookreading Database (IBDb)

I am very excited to be able to announce that a new paper “Introducing the Infant Bookreading Database (IBDb)” has just come out as an on-line first view paper in the Journal of Child Language. The paper, co-authored with Lisa Matthewson, describes a data-base of children’s books that came out of the survey we posted a link to a few years back, and which we’re making available to other researchers. (Click here to get to it.) Note, the paper is Open Access.

Here’s the abstract of the paper: Studies on the relationship between bookreading and language development typically lack data about which books are actually read to children. This paper reports on an Internet survey designed to address this data gap. The resulting dataset (the Infant Bookreading Database or IBDb) includes responses from 1,107 caregivers of children aged 0-36 months who answered questions about the English-language books they most commonly read to their children. The inclusion of demographic information enables analysis of subsets of data based on age, sex, or caregivers’ education level. A comparison between our dataset and those used in previous analyses reveals that there is relatively little overlap between booklists gathered from proxies such as bestseller lists and the books caregivers reported reading to children in our survey. The IBDb is available for download for use by researchers at <>.

New (old) paper by Morrison & Hudson Kam (2009): Phonological form influences memory for form-meaning mappings in adult second-language learners.

In a previous post I committed to doing blog posts on failed conditions. One reason behind this was to be part of the solution to the hidden data problem that exists in psychology, and by extension, cognitive science. But not all hidden data are failures to find a relationship, some hidden data come from studies that have never been written up, and may never be due to time constraints. (That is a whole other problem and one I’m not going to tackle here.) In an effort to get some of those data out too, I’ve decided to post papers that for one reason or another are unlikely to ever be published.

This is the first such post. It’s a paper that resulted in part from an undergraduate honors thesis by Jessica Morrison at UC Berkeley. The paper was written up in late 2008 early 2009. It was submitted somewhere (I can’t remember where). It was rejected, but we got comments that could have been useful for reworking the paper a bit before sending it off somewhere else. Jessica left academia, and despite plans to send the paper elsewhere, it was not my highest priority. So the paper languished and now the citations are out of date. I have faced the fact that I will always have other things on my plate that are higher priority than this paper. But I think it’s a neat little project, and someone out there might find it interesting or useful. So here it is. I haven’t done anything to the manuscript other than add a statement about copyright, and put the tables and figures into the text. So it’s not the prettiest document, but it is now available, which is something it wasn’t when it was just sitting on my hard drive. And hey, it’s also open access! Just click on the highlighted names after the title to get a copy of the paper.

Title: Phonological form influences memory for form-meaning mappings in adult second-language learners. Morrison & Hudson Kam (2009)

Abstract: This study asks whether phonological form affects adult second language learners’ ability to learn the meanings of novel words. Specifically, we ask whether hard-to-pronounce words, defined as having phones/phone combinations not present in the learner’s native language, are more difficult to learn meanings for, and further, if learnability differences are due to interference from production problems or more general representational difficulties. We exposed participants to easy- and hard-to pronounce novel word-novel object pairings and tested their memory for the pairings. Participants who had either repeated words aloud, performed subvocal repetition, or heard another learner’s attempts to repeat the words during exposure performed worse on hard-to-pronounce words when tested immediately after exposure. When tested the following day, all participants, regardless of exposure condition, showed the effect. In a follow-up experiment, participants who engaged in an articulatory suppression task during learning did not have more difficulty with hard-to-pronounce words, suggesting that differences cannot simply be due to interference. Rather, we suggest that more difficult phonological forms lead to weaker representations which are then more difficult to link up with meanings in memory.

“Children’s Use of Gesture in Ambiguous Pronoun Interpretation” – New (OA) paper out in Journal of Child Language

I’m happy to announce a new paper “Children’s Use of Gesture in Ambiguous Pronoun Interpretation” just out in the Journal of Child Language by Whitney Goodrich Smith and Carla Hudson Kam. FYI: It’s published as an open access paper.

Here’s the abstract:

“This study explores whether children can use gesture to inform their interpretation of ambiguous pronouns. Specifically, we ask whether four- to eight-year-old English-speaking children are sensitive to information contained in co-referential localizing gestures in video narrations. The data show that the older (7–8 years of age) but not younger (4–5 years) children integrate co-referential gestures into their interpretation of pronouns. This is the same age at which they show sensitivity to order-of-mention, the only other cue available in the stimuli. Interestingly, when children show sensitivity to the gestures, they are quite similar to adults, in that gestures consistent with order-of-mention increase first-mentioned responses as compared to stimuli with no gestures, but only slightly, while gestures inconsistent with order-of-mention have a larger effect on interpretation, decreasing first-mentioned responses and increasing second-mentioned responses.”

When It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learning – New paper out in PLOS ONE

I am so happy to be able to announce the publication of “When It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learning“, just out in PLOS ONE. This is another piece by former student Amy Finn, PhD, currently a post doc at MIT.

Here’s the abstract:
Compared to children, adults are bad at learning language. This is counterintuitive; adults outperform children on most measures of cognition, especially those that involve effort (which continue to mature into early adulthood). The present study asks whether these mature effortful abilities interfere with language learning in adults and further, whether interference occurs equally for aspects of language that adults are good (word-segmentation) versus bad (grammar) at learning. Learners were exposed to an artificial language comprised of statistically defined words that belong to phonologically defined categories (grammar). Exposure occurred under passive or effortful conditions. Passive learners were told to listen while effortful learners were instructed to try to 1) learn the words, 2) learn the categories, or 3) learn the category-order. Effortful learners showed an advantage for learning words while passive learners showed an advantage for learning the categories. Effort can therefore hurt the learning of categories.

Thanks to PLOS ONE for a great experience. Thanks also to Michael Ramscar, who gave very thoughtful and helpful commentary along the way. (He served as a reviewer, more than once. And no, it’s not a case of conflict of interest. He signs his reviews.)

Open Access publication.

Just published: Learning language with the wrong neural scaffolding: the cost of neural commitment to sounds.

I’m excited to finally be able to announce a publication on the blog! It’s a paper entitled “Learning language with the wrong neural scaffolding: the cost of neural commitment to sounds” that just came out in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. It’s part of a special issue on sensitive periods in development. So happy to see this work finally come out. Congratulations to first author Amy Finn!

It’s my first foray into open access publishing, and it was a great experience.

Abstract is here: Does tuning to one’s native language explain the “sensitive period” for language learning? We explore the idea that tuning to (or becoming more selective for) the properties of one’s native-language could result in being less open (or plastic) for tuning to the properties of a new language. To explore how this might lead to the sensitive period for grammar learning, we ask if tuning to an earlier-learned aspect of language (sound structure) has an impact on the neural representation of a later-learned aspect (grammar). English-speaking adults learned one of two miniature artificial languages (MALs) over 4 days in the lab. Compared to English, both languages had novel grammar, but only one was comprised of novel sounds. After learning a language, participants were scanned while judging the grammaticality of sentences. Judgments were performed for the newly learned language and English. Learners of the similar-sounds language recruited regions that overlapped more with English. Learners of the distinct-sounds language, however, recruited the Superior Temporal Gyrus (STG) to a greater extent, which was coactive with the Inferior Frontal Gyrus (IFG). Across learners, recruitment of IFG (but not STG) predicted both learning success in tests conducted prior to the scan and grammatical judgment ability during the scan. Data suggest that adults’ difficulty learning language, especially grammar, could be due, at least in part, to the neural commitments they have made to the lower level linguistic components of their native language.”