Statistical Learning Is Not Age‐Invariant During Childhood: Performance Improves With Age Across Modality

Cognitive Science 42 (8):3100-3115 (2018)
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Abstract

Humans are capable of extracting recurring patterns from their environment via statistical learning (SL), an ability thought to play an important role in language learning and learning more generally. While much work has examined statistical learning in infants and adults, less work has looked at the developmental trajectory of SL during childhood to see whether it is fully developed in infancy or improves with age, like many other cognitive abilities. A recent study showed modality‐based differences in the effect of age during childhood: While visual SL improved with age, auditory SL did not. This finding was taken as evidence for modality‐based differences in SL. However, since that study used auditory linguistic stimuli (syllables), the differential effect of age may have been driven by stimulus type (linguistic vs. non‐linguistic) rather than modality. Here, we ask whether age will affect performance similarly in the two modalities when non‐linguistic auditory stimuli are used (familiar sounds instead of syllables). We conduct a large‐scale study of children's performance on visual and non‐linguistic auditory SL during childhood (ages 5–12 years). The results show a similar effect of age in both modalities: Unlike previous findings, both visual and non‐linguistic auditory SL improved with age. These findings highlight the stimuli‐sensitive nature of SL and suggest that modality‐based differences may be stimuli‐dependent, and that age‐invariance may be limited to linguistic stimuli.

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