Recent psycholinguistics research suggests that the executive function (EF) skill known as conflict resolution – the ability to adjust behavior in the service of resolving among incompatible representations – is important for several language processing tasks such as lexical and syntactic ambiguity resolution, verbal fluency, and common-ground assessment. Here, we discuss work showing that various EF skills can be enhanced through consistent practice with working-memory tasks that tap these EFs, and, moreover, that improvements on the training tasks transfer across domains to novel tasks that may rely on shared underlying EFs. These findings have implications for language processing and could launch new research exploring if EF training, within a “process-specific” framework, could be used as a remediation tool for improving general language use. Indeed, work in our lab demonstrates that EF training that increases conflict-resolution processes has selective benefits on an untrained sentence-processing task requiring syntactic ambiguity resolution, which relies on shared conflict-resolution functions. Given claims that conflict-resolution abilities contribute to a range of linguistic skills, EF training targeting this process could theoretically yield wider performance gains beyond garden-path recovery. We offer some hypotheses on the potential benefits of EF training as a component of interventions to mitigate general difficulties in language processing. However, there are caveats to consider as well, which we also address.
Keywords: cognitive training, executive function, conflict resolution, process-specificity, language processing, ambiguity resolution
Citation: Hussey EK and Novick JM (2012) The benefits of executive control training and the implications for language processing. Front. Psychology 3:158. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00158
Received: 01 August 2011; Accepted: 02 May 2012;
Published online: 21 May 2012.
Edited by:Andriy Myachykov, University of Glasgow, UK
Reviewed by:Silvia P. Gennari, University of York, UK
Copyright: © 2012 Hussey and Novick. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: Erika K. Hussey, Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, 1147 Biology-Psychology Building, College Park, MD 20916, USA. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org