Phonological loop affects children’s interpretations of explicit but not ambiguous questions: Research on links between working memory and referent assignment

Xianwei Meng, Taro Murakami, Kazuhide Hashiya

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1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Understanding the referent of other’s utterance by referring the contextual information helps in smooth communication. Although this pragmatic referential process can be observed even in infants, its underlying mechanism and relative abilities remain unclear. This study aimed to comprehend the background of the referential process by investigating whether the phonological loop affected the referent assignment. A total of 76 children (43 girls) aged 3–5 years participated in a reference assignment task in which an experimenter asked them to answer explicit (e.g., “What color is this?”) and ambiguous (e.g., “What about this?”) questions about colorful objects. The phonological loop capacity was measured by using the forward digit span task in which children were required to repeat the numbers as an experimenter uttered them. The results showed that the scores of the forward digit span task positively predicted correct response to explicit questions and part of the ambiguous questions. That is, the phonological loop capacity did not have effects on referent assignment in response to ambiguous questions that were asked after a topic shift of the explicit questions and thus required a backward reference to the preceding explicit questions to detect the intent of the current ambiguous questions. These results suggest that although the phonological loop capacity could overtly enhance the storage of verbal information, it does not seem to directly contribute to the pragmatic referential process, which might require further social cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0187368
JournalPloS one
Volume12
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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