Procedural auditory category learning is selectively disrupted in developmental language disorder

Hadeer Derawi, Casey L. Roark, Yafit Gabay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Speech communication depends on accurate perception and identification of speech sounds, which vary across talkers and word or sentence contexts. The ability to map this variable input onto discrete speech sound representations relies on categorization. Recent research and theoretical models implicate the procedural learning system in the ability to learn novel speech and non-speech categories. This connection is particularly intriguing because several language disorders that demonstrate linguistic impairments are proposed to stem from procedural learning and memory dysfunction. One such disorder, Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), affects 7.5% of children and persists into adulthood. While DLD is associated with general linguistic impairments, it is not yet clear how fundamental perceptual and cognitive processes supporting language are impacted, such as the ability to learn novel auditory categories. We examined auditory category learning in children with DLD and typically developed (TD) children using two well-matched nonspeech auditory category learning challenges to draw upon presumed procedural (information-integration) versus declarative (rule-based) learning systems. We observed impaired information-integration category learning and intact rule-based category learning in the DLD group. Quantitative model-based analyses revealed reduced use of, and slower shifting to, optimal procedural-based strategies in DLD and slower shifting to but similarly efficient use of optimal hypothesis-testing strategies. The dissociation is consistent with the Procedural Deficit Hypothesis of language disorders and supports the theoretical distinction of multiple category learning systems. These findings demonstrate that highly controlled experimental tasks assessing perceptual and cognitive abilities can relate to real-world challenges facing individuals with DLD in forming stable linguistic representations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Early online date26 Oct 2023
StateE-pub ahead of print - 26 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Auditory categorization
  • Category learning
  • Computational modeling
  • Developmental language disorder
  • Multiple memory systems
  • Procedural learning deficit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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