Incidental Category Learning and Cognitive Load in a Multisensory Environment Across Childhood

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Multisensory information has been shown to facilitate learning (Bahrick & Lickliter, 2000; Broadbent, White, Mareschal, & Kirkham, 2017; Jordan & Baker, 2011; Shams & Seitz, 2008). However, although research has examined the modulating effect of unisensory and multisensory distractors on multisensory processing, the extent to which a concurrent unisensory or multisensory cognitive load task would interfere with or support multisensory learning remains unclear. This study examined the role of concurrent task modality on incidental category learning in 6- to 10-year-olds. Participants were engaged in a multisensory learning task while also performing either a unisensory (visual or auditory only) or multisensory (audiovisual) concurrent task (CT). We found that engaging in an auditory CT led to poorer performance on incidental category learning compared with an audiovisual or visual CT, across groups. In 6-year-olds, category test performance was at chance in the auditory-only CT condition, suggesting auditory concurrent tasks may interfere with learning in younger children, but the addition of visual information may serve to focus attention. These findings provide novel insight into the use of multisensory concurrent information on incidental learning. Implications for the deployment of multisensory learning tasks within education across development and developmental changes in modality dominance and ability to switch flexibly across modalities are discussed.

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