Childhood SES affects anticipatory language comprehension in college-aged adults


Childhood socioeconomic status (SES) has a broad impact on cognitive development including nearly every aspect of language ability. In infancy, lower SES is associated with delays in real-time language processing skills, but it is not known whether or how this relationship carries into adulthood. We explore these questions by assessing the timecourse of anticipatory sentence interpretation in a visual-world eye-tracking task in college-aged adults from higher and lower SES backgrounds. While there were only subtle SES-related timing differences in anticipation of a sentence-final target noun, we found SES-related differences in looks to competitor items on the screen. Particularly, individuals from higher SES backgrounds showed relatively more looks to action-related competitors just prior to onset of the target noun. These findings suggest that early SES influences the dynamics of lexical activation during sentence processing even in adulthood and highlight the importance of early lexical input and experience for adult language skill.

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