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Individual differences in the acquisition of non‐linguistic audio‐visual associations in 5 year olds

Abstract Audio‐visual associative learning – at least when linguistic stimuli are employed – is known to rely on core linguistic skills such as phonological awareness. Here we ask whether this would also be the case in a task that does not manipulate linguistic information. Another question of interest is whether executive skills, often found to support learning, may play a larger role in a non‐linguistic audio‐visual associative task compared to a linguistic one. We present a new task that measures learning when having to associate non‐linguistic auditory signals with novel visual shapes. Importantly, our novel task shares with linguistic processes such as reading acquisition the need to associate sounds with arbitrary shapes. Yet, rather than phonemes or syllables, it uses novel environmental sounds – therefore limiting direct reliance on linguistic abilities. Five‐year‐old French‐speaking children (N = 76, 39 girls) were assessed individually in our novel audio‐visual associative task, as well as in a number of other cognitive tasks evaluating linguistic abilities and executive functions. We found phonological awareness and language comprehension to be related to scores in the audio‐visual associative task, while no correlation with executive functions was observed. These results underscore a key relation between foundational language competencies and audio‐visual associative learning, even in the absence of linguistic input in the associative task.

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