Developmental Differences in Beta and Theta Power During Sentence Processing


Although very young children process ongoing language quickly and effortlessly, research indicates that they continue to improve and mature in their language skills through adolescence. This prolonged development may be related to differing engagement of semantic and syntactic processes. This study used event related potentials and time frequency analysis of EEG to identify developmental differences in neural engagement as children (ages 10-12) and adults performed an auditory verb agreement grammaticality judgment task. Adults and children revealed very few differences in comprehending grammatically correct sentences. When identifying grammatical errors, however, adults displayed widely distributed beta and theta power decreases that were significantly less pronounced in children. Adults also demonstrated a significant P600 effect, while children exhibited an apparent N400 effect. Thus, when identifying subtle grammatical errors in real time, adults display greater neural activation that is traditionally associated with syntactic processing whereas children exhibit greater activity more commonly associated with semantic processing. These findings support previous claims that the cognitive and neural underpinnings of syntactic processing are still developing in adolescence, and add to them by more clearly identifying developmental changes in the neural oscillations underlying grammatical processing.



Children--Language, English language--Sentences, Theta rhythm, Beta rhythm, Neurosciences, Evoked Potentials, Grammaticality (Linguistics)


CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives), ©2015 The Authors