A Matter of Time: Implicit Acquisition of Recursive Sequence Structures

Abstract

A dominant hypothesis in empirical research on the evolution of language is the following: the fundamental difference between animal and human communication systems is captured by the distinction between regular and more complex non-regular grammars. Studies reporting successful artificial grammar learning of nested recursive structures and imaging studies of the same have methodological shortcomings since they typically allow explicit problem solving strategies and this has been shown to account for the learning effect in subsequent behavioral studies. The present study overcomes these shortcomings by using subtle violations of agreement structure in a preference classification task. In contrast to the studies conducted so far, we use an implicit learning paradigm, allowing the time needed for both abstraction processes and consolidation to take place. Our results demonstrate robust implicit learning of recursively embedded structures (context-free grammar) and recursive structures with cross-dependencies (context-sensitive grammar) in an artificial grammar learning task spanning 9 days. Keywords: Implicit artificial grammar learning; centre embedded; cross-dependency; implicit learning; context-sensitive grammar; context-free grammar; regular grammar; non-regular grammar


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