Emily Mech (UC Riverside)
The consequences of second language experience for category learning

Language is ubiquitous; every typically developing human uses language to communicate. However, language is not simply a means of communication, but also an experience that shapes the window of cognition through which we see the world. The focus of the current research was to identify whether experience with a second language influences the formation and learning of new categories, with implications for the rate of new learning and the ability to generalize learning. Young adults (N=90) with a diverse range of language experiences learned to categorize aliens in a no-label condition or in a condition in which arbitrary labels were heard as feedback, in a paradigm adapted from Lupyan, Rakison and McClelland (2007). Behavioral accuracy and EEG were recorded to measure learning trajectories, outcomes, and generalization. Age of acquisition and proficiency in a second language significantly influenced trajectories and outcomes of learning, and an N400 in the ERP record measured the degree to which participants were sensitive to learned alien stimuli, generalizable alien stimuli, and oddball stimuli. Learning categories with a label vs. without influenced the ability to remember and generalize category rules. However, while Lupyan et al. found faster learning trajectories and higher accuracy for learning categories with a label, the current research did not find this main effect. Implications for the findings and future research directions are discussed.