[PS-1.35] Visual attention influences language processing

Heyselaar, E. 1 , Hagoort, P. 1, 2 & Segaert, K. 3, 1

1 Neurobiology of Language Department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
2 Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
3 School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom

Research into the interaction between attention and language has mainly focused on how language influences attention. But how does attention influence language? Considering we are constantly bombarded with attention grabbing stimuli unrelated to the conversation we are conducting, this is certainly an interesting topic of investigation. In this study we aim to uncover how limiting attentional resources influences language behaviour. We focus on syntactic priming: a task which captures how participants adapt their syntactic choices to their partner. Participants simultaneously conducted a motion-object tracking (MOT) task, a task commonly used to tax attentional resources. We thus measured participants? ability to process syntax while their attention is not-, slightly-, or overly-taxed. We observed an inverted U-shaped curve on priming magnitude when conducting the MOT task concurrently with prime sentences, but no effect when conducted with target sentences. Our results illustrate how, during the prime phase of the syntactic priming task, attention differentially affects syntactic processing whereas during the target phase there is no effect of attention on language behaviour. We explain these results in terms of the implicit learning necessary to prime and how different levels of attention taxation can either impair or enhance the way language is encoded.