Statistical Learning Ability Can Overcome the Negative Impact of Low Socioeconomic Status on Language Development


Statistical learning (SL) is believed to be a mechanism that enables successful language acquisition. Language acquisition in turn is heavily influenced by environmental factors such as socioeconomic status (SES). However, it is unknown to what extent SL abilities interact with SES in affecting language outcomes. To examine this potential interaction, we measured event-related potentials (ERPs) in 38 children aged 7-12 while performing a visual SL task consisting of a sequence of stimuli that contained covert statistical probabilities that predicted a target stimulus. Hierarchical regression results indicated that SL ability moderated the relationship between SES (average of both caregiver’s education level) and language scores (grammar, and marginally with receptive vocabulary). For children with high SL ability, SES had a weaker effect on language compared to children with low SL ability, suggesting that having good SL abilities could help ameliorate the disadvantages associated with being raised in a family with lower SES.

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