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Verbal interference paradigms: A systematic review investigating the role of language in cognition

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This paper presents a systematic review of the empirical literature that uses dual-task interference methods for investigating the on-line involvement of language in various cognitive tasks. In these studies, participants perform some primary task X putatively recruiting linguistic resources while also engaging in a secondary, concurrent task. If performance on the primary task decreases under interference, there is evidence for language involvement in the primary task. We assessed studies (N = 101) reporting at least one experiment with verbal interference and at least one control task (either primary or secondary). We excluded papers with an explicitly clinical, neurological, or developmental focus. The primary tasks identified include categorization, memory, mental arithmetic, motor control, reasoning (verbal and visuospatial), task switching, theory of mind, visual change, and visuospatial integration and wayfinding. Overall, the present review found that internal language is likely to play a facilitative role in memory and categorization when items to be remembered or categorized have readily available labels, when inner speech can act as a form of behavioral self-cuing (inhibitory control, task set reminders, verbal strategy), and when inner speech is plausibly useful as “workspace”, e.g., for mental arithmetic. There is less evidence for the role of internal language in cross-modal integration, reasoning relying on a high degree of visual detail or items low on nameability, and theory of mind. We discuss potential pitfalls and suggestions for streamlining and improving the methodology.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

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