Implicit statistical learning in language processing: Word predictability is the key

Christopher M. Conway, Althea Bauernschmidt, Sean S. Huang, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

207 Scopus citations


Fundamental learning abilities related to the implicit encoding of sequential structure have been postulated to underlie language acquisition and processing. However, there is very little direct evidence to date supporting such a link between implicit statistical learning and language. In three experiments using novel methods of assessing implicit learning and language abilities, we show that sensitivity to sequential structure - as measured by improvements to immediate memory span for structurally-consistent input sequences - is significantly correlated with the ability to use knowledge of word predictability to aid speech perception under degraded listening conditions. Importantly, the association remained even after controlling for participant performance on other cognitive tasks, including short-term and working memory, intelligence, attention and inhibition, and vocabulary knowledge. Thus, the evidence suggests that implicit learning abilities are essential for acquiring long-term knowledge of the sequential structure of language - i.e., knowledge of word predictability - and that individual differences on such abilities impact speech perception in everyday situations. These findings provide a new theoretical rationale linking basic learning phenomena to specific aspects of spoken language processing in adults, and may furthermore indicate new fruitful directions for investigating both typical and atypical language development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-371
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Implicit learning
  • Individual differences
  • Language processing
  • Speech perception
  • Statistical learning
  • Word predictability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Implicit statistical learning in language processing: Word predictability is the key'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this