Can we improve structured sequence processing? Exploring the direct and indirect effects of computerized training using a mediational model

Gretchen N.L. Smith, Christopher M. Conway, Althea Bauernschmidt, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


Recent research suggests that language acquisition may rely on domain-general learning abilities, such as structured sequence processing, which is the ability to extract, encode, and represent structured patterns in a temporal sequence. If structured sequence processing supports language, then it may be possible to improve language function by enhancing this foundational learning ability. The goal of the present study was to use a novel computerized training task as a means to better understand the relationship between structured sequence processing and language function. Participants first were assessed on pre-training tasks to provide baseline behavioral measures of structured sequence processing and language abilities. Participants were then quasi-randomly assigned to either a treatment group involving adaptive structured visuospatial sequence training, a treatment group involving adaptive non-structured visuospatial sequence training, or a control group. Following four days of sequence training, all participants were assessed with the same pre-training measures. Overall comparison of the post-training means revealed no group differences. However, in order to examine the potential relations between sequence training, structured sequence processing, and language ability, we used a mediation analysis that showed two competing effects. In the indirect effect, adaptive sequence training with structural regularities had a positive impact on structured sequence processing performance, which in turn had a positive impact on language processing. This finding not only identifies a potential novel intervention to treat language impairments but also may be the first demonstration that structured sequence processing can be improved and that this, in turn, has an impact on language processing. However, in the direct effect, adaptive sequence training with structural regularities had a direct negative impact on language processing. This unexpected finding suggests that adaptive training with structural regularities might potentially interfere with language processing. Taken together, these findings underscore the importance of pursuing designs that promote a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying training-related changes, so that regimens can be developed that help reduce these types of negative effects while simultaneously maximizing the benefits to outcome measures of interest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0127148
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 6 2015


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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