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The Effect of Irrelevant Visual Input on Working Memory for Sign Language

Margaret Wilson and Karen Emmorey
Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 2003), pp. 97-103
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42658644
Page Count: 7
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The Effect of Irrelevant Visual Input on Working Memory for Sign Language
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Abstract

We report results showing that working memory for American Sign Language (ASL) is sensitive to irrelevant signed input (and other structured visual input) in a manner similar to the effects of irrelevant auditory input on working memory for speech. Deaf signers were disrupted on serial recall of lists of ASL signs when either pseudosigns or moving shapes were presented during a retention interval. Hearing subjects asked to recall lists of printed English words did not show disruption under the same interference conditions. The results favor models that hypothesize modality-specific representations of language within working memory, as opposed to amodal representations. The results further indicate that working memory for sign language involves visual or quasi-visual representations, suggesting parallels to visuospatial working memory.

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