Oscillatory activity and EEG phase synchrony of concurrent word segmentation and meaning-mapping in 9-year-old children

Neus Ramos-Escobar,  Emma Segura, Guillem Olivé, Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells, & Clément François

Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 51: 101010

When learning a new language, one must segment words from continuous speech and associate them with meanings. These complex processes can be boosted by attentional mechanisms triggered by multi-sensory information. Previous electrophysiological studies suggest that brain oscillations are sensitive to different hierarchical complexity levels of the input, making them a plausible neural substrate for speech parsing. Here, we investigated the functional role of brain oscillations during concurrent speech segmentation and meaning acquisition in sixty 9-year-old children. We collected EEG data during an audio-visual statistical learning task during which children were exposed to a learning condition with consistent word-picture associations and a random condition with inconsistent word-picture associations before being tested on their ability to recall words and word-picture associations. We capitalized on the brain dynamics to align neural activity to the same rate as an external rhythmic stimulus to explore modulations of neural synchronization and phase synchronization between electrodes during multi-sensory word learning. Results showed enhanced power at both word- and syllabic-rate and increased EEG phase synchronization between frontal and occipital regions in the learning compared to the random condition. These findings suggest that multi-sensory cueing and attentional mechanisms play an essential role in children’s successful word learning.


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