Bettoni, R. 1 , Riva, V. 3 , Cantiani, C. 3 , Molteni, M. 3 , Macchi Cassia, V. 1, 2 & Bulf, H. 1, 2
1 University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy
2 Center of Neurosciences (Neuro-MI), Milan, Italy
3 Scientific Institute E.Medea, Bosisio Parini, Italy
Rule Learning (RL) is an implicit learning mechanism that allows infants to learn abstract rule-like patterns from a sequence of elements. A bunch of studies have demonstrated that infants? RL is operating in both the auditory and the visual domain. While it has been proposed that RL is crucial for the extraction of the morphosyntactic structure of language, no studies have directly investigated the link between infants? RL and language acquisition. Here, we conducted a longitudinal study to investigate whether 7-month-olds? RL abilities in the visual domain are a possible predictor of the linguistic outcome at 2 years of age. Using the habituation paradigm, we tested infants? ability to extract and generalize ABB and ABA patterns from a sequence of visual shapes. Vocabulary and syntactic outcomes were assessed in the same babies at 2 years of age using the MacArthur-Bates CDIs. Regression analyses showed that infants? RL abilities significantly predict syntactic outcome (p<.02), explaining 15% of the variance, but did not predict the vocabulary outcome. These findings indicate that domain-general RL abilities might play a role in language development, and suggest that RL might act as a possible neurocognitive marker to identify infants at risk for language impairments.