Developmental differences in the neural oscillations underlying auditory sentence processing in children and adults

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Abstract

Although very young children seem to process ongoing language quickly and effortlessly, neuroimaging and behavioral studies reveal that children continue to mature in their language skills through adolescence. During this prolonged development, children likely engage the same basic cognitive processes and neural mechanisms to perform language tasks as adults, but in somewhat different ways. In this study we used time frequency analysis of EEG to identify developmental differences in the engagement of neural oscillations between children (ages 10–12) and adults while listening to naturally-paced sentences. Adults displayed consistent beta changes throughout the sentence compared to children, thought to be related to efficient syntactic integration, and children displayed more broadly distributed theta changes than adults, thought to be related to more effortful semantic integration. Few differences in alpha, related to verbal working memory, existed between groups. These findings shed new light on developmental changes in the neuronal processes underlying language comprehension.

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