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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Event Representation and Verb Learning: Integrating Brain and Behavioral Development /

  • Author(s): Pace, Amy Elizabeth
  • et al.

The investigations included in this dissertation ask how young children learn to understand and communicate about events in their world. Specifically, I consider the development of and relationship between children's nonlinguistic event representation (i.e., one's subjective conceptualization of experience corresponding to the physical world) and early verb learning ability using behavioral and electrophysiological methodologies in children (24- to 42-months) and adults. Chapter 1 takes the format of a review paper aimed at clarifying the role of spatial- and social-cognitive processes in two areas of development addressed in this dissertation : event representation and verb learning. Understanding the relationship between these two areas of development provides a framework for the empirical investigations that follow. The first set of empirical studies investigate children's nonlinguistic event representation. Chapter 2 investigates neurophysiological responses to intact and disrupted actions embedded within a novel event in children and adults using event-related potentials (ERPs). Chapter 3 extends these results to investigate the allocation of attention to two features within dynamic events - movement versus boundaries - in children and adults using a visual preference paradigm. The second set of studies explore children's ability to learn novel verb labels for actions using behavioral and electrophysiological paradigms. Chapter 4 investigates spatial- (i.e., perceptual) and social-cognitive (i.e., conceptual) processes in toddlers' mapping of concepts to real-world events using a behavioral re-enactment paradigm. Finally, to gain a better understanding of the neurophysiological changes that take place in the development of children's verb-learning ability, Chapter 5 examines age-related changes in cortical processing of real and novel verb-to-action associations between 2.5- and 3.5-years of age. This is a period that is pivotal for emerging verb usage, action understanding, and cognitive development, yet the maturational changes that support word learning in general, and verb-learning in particular, are poorly understood. Together these investigations help to advance current understanding of behavioral and neurophysiological processes involved in children's nonlinguistic event representation and subsequent verb learning abilities at a critical point in language acquisition

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