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Event-Related Potential and Reaction Time Differences in Processing of Words Acquired in Early and Late Childhood

Faculty Supervisor:
Dwight Krehbiel
Year of Project Completion:
Guadalupe Gonzalez


Previous research has demonstrated that the left hemisphere specializes in language processing, while the right hemisphere specializes in emotional and visuospatial processing (Purves, 2007). However, a recent study found that words acquired in early childhood (3-4 years) are processed faster by the right hemisphere whereas, words acquired in late childhood (7-8 years), are processed faster by the left hemisphere (Bowers, Bradley, & Kennison, 2013). In addition, there was an overall difference with early-acquired words processed faster than lateacquired words. The present research obtained reaction times and even-related potential (ERP) recordings to investigate processing differences between words with different ages of acquisition (AoA). Participants included 35 undergraduates (17 males, 18 females) enrolled in psychology, science, and statistics courses at Bethel College. Reaction time results indicated that overall, early AoA words were processed faster than late AoA words by both the left and right hemisphere, F(1,32) = 37.55, p < .0001.When examining ERP results, lateAoAwords presented on the left produced a significantly more positive ERP (p < .05, corrected for multiple comparisons) than those presented on the right for all left hemisphere electrodes, while such differences were not found in early AoA words. Furthermore, when looking at early and late AoAwords presented to the left visual field, late AoA words had more positive ERPs than early AoAwords for electrodes throughout the brain. Overall, this study suggests that early AoA words are processed bilaterally whereas late AoAwords are processed in the left hemisphere. Furthermore, there are no ERP asymmetries between the left and right hemispheres when processing early- and late-acquired words. Future research should examine different age groups to further investigate age differences in word processing.

Related file

Senior Thesis - Guadalupe Gonzalez.pdf

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.