When It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learning


Compared to children, adults are bad at learning language. This is counterintuitive; adults outperform children on most measures of cognition, especially those that involve effort (which continue to mature into early adulthood). The present study asks whether these mature effortful abilities interfere with language learning in adults and further, whether interference occurs equally for aspects of language that adults are good (word-segmentation) versus bad (grammar) at learning. Learners were exposed to an artificial language comprised of statistically defined words that belong to phonologically defined categories (grammar). Exposure occurred under passive or effortful conditions. Passive learners were told to listen while effortful learners were instructed to try to 1) learn the words, 2) learn the categories, or 3) learn the category-order. Effortful learners showed an advantage for learning words while passive learners showed an advantage for learning the categories. Effort can therefore hurt the learning of categories.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101806

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@inproceedings{Finn2014WhenIH, title={When It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learning}, author={Amy S. Finn and Taraz G. Lee and Allison Kraus and Carla L. Hudson Kam}, booktitle={PloS one}, year={2014} }