Syntactic Priming in Young Children and Adults
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This study presents an experiment which investigated syntactic priming of passive and active sentence constructs in three- and four-year-old children and adults in order to reveal more about the nature of their syntactic representations. We examined whether there was an enhanced priming effect when verbs in the prime and target are the same, as well as investigating the persistence of syntactic priming and lexical boost. The children and adults were tested using the same methodology to enable the direct comparison of effects in adults and children. The experiment was designed to resemble a game of ‘snap’, as used in a study by Branigan, Mclean and Jones (2005) which was closely approximate to previous studies involving adults. This procedure involved the naïve participant and experimenter confederate taking it in turns to describe picture cards to each other, before deciding if they were the same or not. The method was successful in eliciting a priming effect for active and passive sentence constructs in both adults and children. The results also revealed an enhanced priming effect in the same-verb condition. In addition, the priming effect was found to persist over lag, however the effect did decay. With regards to the persistence of the lexical boost it was found to decay considerably over lag. Overall our results suggest that children’s representations, like adults, are abstract and yet have a lexically specific component. We showed our method to be successful in investigating the priming effect in both adults and children. Future research would profit from increasing the intervening time lapse between prime and target to reveal more about children’s and adults syntactic processing and representations.