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Description: While reading, we extract the meaning of words from context, without even realizing that we are honing our vocabulary in the process. A great deal of research has focused on how psycholinguistic properties of words, or cognitive factors such as memory and attention influence word learning. Rather less work has focused on why we are motivated to learn words in the first place. In adults, a new series of experiments has shown that intrinsic reward signals accompany successful word learning from context. In addition, this experience of reward facilitates long-term memory for the learned words. In adolescence, developmental changes are seen in both reward and motivation systems, as well as in reading and language systems. Here, in the face of this developmental change, we ask whether adolescents experience reward from word learning, and how the reward and memory benefit seen in adults is modulated by age. We propose to use a well-validated naturalistic reading paradigm that involves extracting novel word meanings from sentence context without the need for explicit feedback. By exploring ratings of enjoyment during the learning phase, as well as recognition memory for words a day later, we will assess whether adolescents show the same reward and learning patterns as adults. We plan to test 400 children between the ages of 10-18 (a minimum of N=84 in each 2-year age-band) using this paradigm. This work will give us greater insight into the process of language acquisition, and set the stage for further investigations of intrinsic reward in typical and atypical development.


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