Growing up with interfering neighbours: the influence of time of learning and vocabulary knowledge on written word learning in children

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Evidence suggests that new vocabulary undergoes a period of strengthening and integration offline, particularly during sleep. Practical questions remain, however, including whether learning closer to bedtime can optimize consolidation, and whether such an effect varies with vocabulary ability. To examine this, children aged 8-12-years-old (n 59) were trained on written novel forms (e.g. BANARA) in either the morning (long delay) or the evening (short delay). Immediately after training and the next day, lexical competition (a marker of integration) was assessed via speeded semantic decisions to neighbouring existing words (e.g. BANANA); explicit memory was measured via recognition and recall tasks. There were no main effects indicating performance changes across sleep for any task, counter to studies of spoken word learning. However, a significant interaction was found, such that children with poorer vocabulary showed stronger lexical competition on the day after learning if there was a short delay between learning and sleep. Furthermore, while poorer vocabulary was associated with slower novel word recognition speed before and after sleep for the long delay group, this association was only present before sleep for the short delay group. Thus, weak vocabulary knowledge compromises novel word acquisition, and when there is a longer period of post-learning wake, this disadvantage remains after a consolidation opportunity. However, when sleep occurs soon after learning, consolidation processes can compensate for weaker encoding and permit lexical integration. These data provide preliminary suggestion that children with poorer vocabulary may benefit from learning new words closer to bedtime.

Original languageEnglish
Article number191597
Number of pages14
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

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