ERPs reveal weaker effects of spelling on auditory rhyme decisions in children than in adults
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A classic finding in psycholinguistics is that orthographic form influences the processing of auditory words. The aim of the present study was to examine how reading experience changes this effect. Specifically, we tested the prediction that top-down visual modulation of spoken word recognition is reduced in children compared to adults, owing to their reduced experience with print. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured as 8–10-year-old children and adults made rhyme decisions about spoken word pairs that were either orthographically similar or dissimilar. When orthography did not conflict (e.g., throat-boat), both age groups demonstrated a robust rhyme effect marked by greater N400 to no-rhyme versus rhyme trials. For rhyming trials that differed in orthography (e.g., vote-boat) and non-rhyming trials that shared orthography (e.g., warm-farm), adults showed more interference than children. Differences in orthographic interference suggest an extended developmental schedule for top-down mechanisms in speech recognition.