Subtle differences in language experience moderate performance on language-based cognitive tests

AbstractCognitive tests used to measure individual differences are generally designed with equality in mind: the same "broadly acceptable" items are used for all participants. This has unknown consequences for equity, particularly when a single set of linguistic stimuli are used for a diverse population of language users. We hypothesized that differences in language variety would result in disparities in psycholinguistically meaningful properties of test items in two widely-used cognitive tasks, resulting in large differences in performance. As a proxy for individuals' language use, we administered a self-report survey of media consumption. We identified two substantial clusters from the survey data, roughly orthogonal to a priori groups recruited into the study (university students and members of the surrounding community). We found effects of both population and cluster membership. Comparing item-wise differences between the clusters' language models did not identify specific items driving performance differences.

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