Why individuals matter: Connecting the dots between individual cognitive processing styles, and the processing of language
Research on language processing shows that individual speakers/listeners can defy group-level tendencies in how language is processed — there is often a wide spectrum of outcomes when group-level data are broken down into individual speaker/listener results. Moreover, recent interdisciplinary research shows that, at the phonetic level at least, cognitive processing styles (e.g. Autism Quotient, personality) may offer an explanation for how listeners process variable phonetic data. What remains an open question, however, is if such processing styles help to explain individual variation at the syntactic level — in other words, do the same cognitive processing styles explain individual variation at both the syntactic and phonetic levels of linguistic analysis? At a broader level, we consider the relevance of the knowledge gained from this research for the acquisition of second languages, where individual variation in target-like proficiency is widely documented, in an increasingly globalized and multilingual world. The goal of this research is to better understand individual differences in the underlying mechanisms of language processing in order to develop tailored coaching strategies for second language learners, children with autism, etc.