Vahid Rahmani Doqaruni

The effect of age in cognitive processing of ambigous relative clauses in second language education

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The present study aimed to investigate the effect of age on cognitive processing of ambiguous Relative Clauses (RCs) in second/foreign language education. The participants were 180 Iranian English-as-a-Foreign- Language (EFL) learners at upper-intermediate and advanced proficiency levels who were randomly assigned to three equal age groups (N=60), namely 16–25, 26–35, and 36–45 year old participants. The stimuli used in the present study were all structurally ambiguous sentences. The sentences included a main clause and an ambiguous RC that could be attached to two preceding antecedents, namely two Noun Phrases (NPs). In order to design and perform the task, PsychoPy was used. The participants were asked to read the sentences appearing on a monitor one by one and decide whether the RC was related to any of the NPs. Reaction Time (RT) measures were calculated to determine the effect of age on cognitive processing of ambiguous RCs. The data revealed that the age has a significant effect on cognitive processing of ambiguous RCs. According to the data, the youngest EFL learners had the lowest RT with respect to their cognitive processing of ambiguous RCs in comparison to their older counterparts. Hence, it can be argued that aging results in changes in cognitive processing of complex syntactic structures, such as ambiguous RCs. Furthermore, it is proposed that cognitive capacity, generally, and working memory, specifically, influence these changes.


  • age
  • ambiguous relative clause
  • noun phrase
  • cognitive processing
  • EFL learners


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