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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The domain specificity of the resources required for sentence processing Kennedy, Michelle


Working memory has been proposed as the cognitive resource system that supports storage and processing while a task is being carried out. The present study investigates the nature of the resources underlying working memory tasks in different cognitive domains and how they relate to sentence processing. Specifically, it aims to determine whether the predictive ability of a working memory task relies more on similarity of cognitive domain or on similarity of the sequence of demands to the sentence processing task. Thirty young normal participants read sentences varying in syntactic complexity in a selfpaced reading experiment. Working memory was assessed using Daneman and Carpenter's reading span task (1980), Waters and Caplan's reading span task (1996a) and two new mathematical and visuo-spatial tasks designed to match the sequence of demands in subjectobject and object-subject relative clause sentences. Correlation analyses examined the relationship between performance on each working memory task and sentence comprehension. The results replicate previous findings of a main effect on reading time of syntactic complexity and of syntactic ambiguity for reduced relative sentences. Complexity effects were observed for subject-object conditions on the mathematical and visuo-spatial tasks. Significant correlations were observed between critical regions of subject-object sentences and (a) mathematical operations, (b) visuo-spatial operations, and (c) one version of the Waters and Caplan reading span task. This pattern of results cannot be explained by theories which incorporate a dissociation between verbal and nonverbal processing resources. The results support a connectionist approach in which familiarity with sequences of storage and processing demands across tasks explains individual differences in processing ability.

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