Abstract

Kaduk, K., Bakker, M., Juvrud, J., Gredebäck, G., Westermann, G., Lunn, J., & Reid, V. (2016) Semantic processing of actions at 9 months is linked to language proficiency at 9 and 18 months. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology



The present study utilizes event-related potential methodologies to investigate how social-cognitive processes in preverbal infants relate to later language capacities. We assessed 9-month-old infants’ understanding of the semantic structure of actions via an N400 ERP response to action sequences that contained expected and unexpected outcomes. At 9 and 18 months, infants’ language production skills were measured using the Swedish Early Communicative Development Inventory (SECDI). Here we show that 9-month-old infants’ understanding of the semantic structure of actions, evidenced in an N400 ERP response to action sequences with unexpected outcomes, are already related to language production and comprehension scores at 9 months and are related to language production scores at 18 months of age. Infants who showed a selective N400 response to unexpected action outcomes are those who are better language comprehenders and producers. The results provide evidence that language performance is related to the ability to detect and interpret human actions at 9 months of age. This study suggests that some basic cognitive mechanisms are involved in the processing of sequential events that are shared between two conceptually different cognitive domains and that pre-linguistic social understanding skills and language proficiency are linked to one another.