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This study tested the procedural deficit hypothesis of specific language impairment (SLI) by comparing children's performance in two motor procedural learning tasks and an implicit verbal sequence learning task. Participants were 7- to 11-year-old children with SLI (n = 48), typically developing age-matched children (n = 20) and younger typically developing children matched for receptive grammar (n = 28). In a serial reaction time task, the children with SLI performed at the same level as the grammar-matched children, but poorer than age-matched controls in learning motor sequences. When tested with a motor procedural learning task that did not involve learning sequential relationships between discrete elements (i.e. pursuit rotor), the children with SLI performed comparably with age-matched children and better than younger grammar-matched controls. In addition, poor implicit learning of word sequences in a verbal memory task (the Hebb effect) was found in the children with SLI. Together, these findings suggest that SLI might be characterized by deficits in learning sequence-specific information, rather than generally weak procedural learning.

Original publication




Journal article


Dev Sci

Publication Date





352 - 365


Age Factors, Case-Control Studies, Child, Humans, Language Development Disorders, Learning Disorders, Neuropsychological Tests, Psychomotor Performance, Reaction Time, Verbal Learning