Statistical learning and the effect of Starting Small in Specific Language Impairment

Kemény, F. 1 & Lukács, &. 2

1 Institute for Psychology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
2 Department of Cognitive Science, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Budapest, Hungary

Children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) lag behind their typically developing (TD) peers in tasks requiring statistical learning, and some argue that this deficit in statistical learning may account for difficulties in different domains of language as well. To gain more insight to the nature of this deficit, we compared the statistical learning performance of children with SLI (n = 40, mean age = 9.3, Sd = 1.2) and age-matched TD children on an Artificial Grammar Learning (AGL) task to test whether children with SLI show a statistical learning deficit on an AGL task with auditory sequences of nonsense syllables. Motivated by the Starting Small hypothesis assuming that incremental presentation of stimuli of different length has a facilitating effect on learning complex structures, we also aimed to test the effect of Starting Small to see weather ordered presentation of the auditory sequences helps AGL in SLI. Our results show that children with SLI have difficulties in extracting regularities from acoustic sequences of syllables organized by an artificial grammar. Moreover, while the learning performance of TD children is enhanced by presenting shorter strings before longer ones during training, no Starting Small benefit was observed in SLI.