Three pilot experiments in statistical learning
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Description: Children around the world learn to read across radically different educational systems and communities. In the west African nation of Côte d’Ivoire, children enter the fifth grade (CM-1) with widely varying literacy skills in French, the official language for primary education. Previous studies have often linked performance in statistical learning tasks with differences in children’s and adults’ literacy outcomes, mainly in Western and high-income educational contexts. We asked whether Ivorian children’s individual differences in emergent second language literacy skills and analogous first language skills could also be explained by their performance in non-linguistic visual statistical learning (VSL). Across three iteratively-developed tasks, 157 children in rural communities surrounding the Adzópe region in Côte d’Ivoire completed a VSL task on touchscreen tablets. We found strong group-level evidence that children exploited the statistical regularities in the image sequence to decrease their response times, but in a post-test, their discrimination between valid and invalid sequences did not exceed chance. Overall, their responses were slower than U.S. children completing a similar task (Qi et al., 2019), and these individual differences in processing speed both confounded statistical learning and predicted second language emergent literacy skills. Moreover, the weak correlation to analogous skills in their first language further suggests that this task did not measure the same skills for the Ivorian children as in previous samples. We recommend adaptations to the statistical learning paradigm that may improve its generalizability across the wider global population.