Attention demands of spoken word planning: a review


Attention and language are among the most intensively researched abilities in the cognitive neurosciences, but the relation between these abilities has largely been neglected.There is increasing evidence, however, that linguistic processes, such as those underlying the planning of words, cannot proceed without paying some form of attention. Here, we review evidence that word planning requires some but not full attention. The evidence comes from chronometric studies of word planning in picture naming and word reading under divided attention conditions. It is generally assumed that the central attention demands of a process are indexed by the extent that the process delays the performance of a concurrent unrelated task. The studies measured the speed and accuracy of linguistic and non-linguistic responding as well as eye gaze durations reflecting the allocation of attention. First, empirical evidence indicates that in several task situations, processes up to and including phonological encoding in word planning delay, or are delayed by, the performance of concurrent unrelated non-linguistic tasks. These findings suggest that word planning requires central attention. Second, empirical evidence indicates that conflicts in word planning may be resolved while concurrently performing an unrelated non-linguistic task, making a task decision, or making a go/no-go decision. These findings suggest that word planning does not require full central attention. We outline a computationally implemented theory of attention and word planning, and describe at various points the outcomes of computer simulations that demonstrate the utility of the theory in accounting for the key findings. Finally, we indicate how attention deficits may contribute to impaired language performance, such as in individuals with specific language impairment.

In: Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 307