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The relationship between word learning and executive function in preschoolers with and without developmental language disorder

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between executive functioning and word learning among preschoolers with and without developmental language disorder (DLD). Method: Forty-one preschool-age children with DLD were matched to typically developing children on age and sex. Participants were exposed to 10 novel pseudowords, half of which referred to familiar objects and half of which referred to unfamiliar objects. Their ability to produce, recognize, and comprehend the novel words was tested, and they completed executive function tasks measuring sustained selective attention, short-term memory, working memory, inhibition, and shifting. Results: Preschoolers with DLD performed worse compared to typically developing peers on all measures of executive function and novel word learning. Both groups showed a relative weakness in producing pseudowords that corresponded with familiar objects versus pseudowords for unknown objects. Executive function accounted for statistically significant variance in word learning beyond group membership, with inhibition as a significant predictor of all word learning outcomes and short-term memory as a significant predictor of novel word comprehension. Executive function explained significant variance in novel word production and recognition even after accounting for variance explained by group differences in IQ and receptive vocabulary. Conclusion: Findings replicate previous research reporting deficits in word learning and executive function in children with DLD, indicate that preschoolers are disadvantaged in learning new words for familiar objects, and support a relationship between executive function and word learning for children with and without DLD. Future research should examine the directionality of the relationship between these variables. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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