Purpose

This study examined whether children with specific language impairment (SLI) are deficient in detecting cognitive conflict between competing response tendencies in a GO/No-GO task.

Method

Twelve children with SLI (ages 10–12), 22 children with typical language development matched group-wise on age (TLD-A), and 16 younger children with TLD (ages 8–9) matched group-wise on language skills (TLD-L) were tested using a behavioral GO/No-GO paradigm with simultaneous collection of event-related potentials. The N2 component was used as a neural index of the ability to detect conflict between GO and No-GO response tendencies.

Results

Hit rates did not differentiate the 3 groups. The TLD-L children demonstrated the highest false-alarm rates. The N2 component was attenuated and showed delayed divergence of GO and No-GO amplitudes in SLI relative to TLD-A children in response to stimuli presented at various probability levels. The N2 effect in children with SLI resembled that of children with TLD who were approximately 3 years younger.

Conclusions

School-age children with SLI exhibit a maturational lag in detecting conflict between competing response alternatives. Deficient conflict detection may in turn hinder these children's ability to resolve conflict among semantic representations that are activated during language processing.

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