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.


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.


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.


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.


  • Bell, A. J., & Sejnowski, T. J. (1995). An information-maximization approach to blind separation and blind deconvolution.Neural Computation, 7, 1129–1159.
  • Bishop, D. V. M., & Edmundson, A. (1987). Specific language impairment as a maturational lag: Evidence from longitudinal data on language and motor development.Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 29, 442–459.
  • Bishop, D. V. M., & McArthur, G. M. (2004). Immature cortical responses to auditory stimuli in specific language impairment: Evidence from ERPs to rapid tone sequences.Developmental Science, 7(4), 11–18.
  • Bishop, D. V. M., & Norbury, C. F. (2005). Executive functions in children with communication impairments in relation to autistic symptomatology 2: Response inhibition.Autism, 9(1), 29–43.
  • Botvinick, M. M., Braver, T. S., Barch, D. M., Carter, C. S., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). Conflict monitoring and cognitive control.Psychological Review, 108, 624–652.
  • Botvinick, M. M., Cohen, J. D., & Carter, C. S. (2004). Conflict monitoring and anterior cingulate cortex: An update.Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 539–546.
  • Braver, T. S., Barch, D. M., Gray, J. R., Molfese, D. L., & Snyder, A. (2001). Anterior cingulate cortex and response conflict: Effects of frequency, inhibition, and errors.Cerebral Cortex, 11, 825–836.
  • Brown, L., Sherbenou, R. J., & Johnsen, S. K. (1997). Test of Nonverbal Intelligence—Third Edition. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
  • Bub, D. N., Masson, M. E. J., & Lalonde, C. E. (2006). Cognitive control in children.Psychological Science, 17, 351–357.
  • Cohen, J. D., Aston-Jones, G., & Gilzenrat, M. S. (2004). A systems-level perspective on attention and cognitive control: Guided activation, adaptive gating, conflict monitoring, and exploitation vs. exploration.In M. I. Posner (Ed.), Cognitive neuroscience of attention (pp. 71–90). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Cohen, J. D., Barch, D. M., Carter, C. S., & Servan-Schreiber, D. (1999). Context-processing deficits in schizophrenia: Converging evidence from three theoretically motivated cognitive tasks.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 108, 120–133.
  • Cohen, J. D., Dunbar, K., & McClelland, J. L. (1990). On the control of automatic processes: A parallel distributed processing model of the Stroop effect.Psychological Review, 97, 332–361.
  • Conners, K. C. (1997). Conners' Rating Scales-Revised technical manual. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.
  • Delorme, A., & Makeig, S. (2004). EEGLAB: An open source toolbox for analysis of single-trial EEG dynamics including independent component analysis.Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 134, 9–21.
  • Dempster, F. N., & Corkill, A. J. (1999). Interference and inhibition in cognition and behavior: Unifying themes for educational psychology.Educational Psychology Review, 11(1), 1–88.
  • Donkers, F. C. L., & van Boxtel, G. J. M. (2004). The N2 in go/no-go tasks reflects conflict monitoring not response inhibition.Brain and Cognition, 56, 165–176.
  • Ellis Weismer, S., Evans, J., & Hesketh, L. J. (1999). An examination of verbal working memory capacity in children with specific language impairment.Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 42, 1249–1260.
  • Falkenstein, M., Hoormann, J., & Hohnsbein, J. (1999). ERP components in Go/NoGo tasks and their relation to inhibition.Acta Psychologica, 101, 267–291.
  • Friedman, D., Putnam, L., & Sutton, S. (1989). Cognitive brain potentials in children, young adults, and senior citizens: Homologous components and changes in scalp distribution.Developmental Neuropsychology, 5, 33–60.
  • German, D. (1987). Spontaneous language profiles of children with word-finding problems.Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 18, 217–230.
  • Gillam, R., Cowan, N., & Day, L. (1995). Sequential memory in children with and without language impairment.Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 38, 393–402.
  • Green, D. M., & Swets, J. A. (1966). Signal detection theory and psychophysics. New York, NY: Wiley.
  • Hill, E. L. (2001). Non-specific nature of specific language impairment: A review of the literature with regard to concomitant motor impairments.International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 36, 149–171.
  • Holcomb, P. J., Coffey, S. A., & Neville, H. J. (1992). Visual and auditory sentence processing: A developmental analysis using event-related brain potentials.Developmental Neuropsychology, 8, 203–241.
  • Im-Bolter, N., Johnson, J., & Pascual-Leone, J. (2006). Processing limitations in children with specific language impairment: The role of executive function.Child Development, 77, 1822–1841.
  • Jodo, E., & Kayama, Y. (1992). Relation of a negative ERP component to response inhibition in a go/no-go task.Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 82, 477–482.
  • Johnstone, S. J., Pleffer, C. B., Barry, R. J., Clarke, A. R., & Smith, J. L. (2005). Development of inhibitory processing during the go/nogo task: A behavioral and event-related potential study of children and adults.Journal of Psychophysiology, 19, 11–23.
  • Jonkman, L. M. (2006). The development of preparation, conflict monitoring and inhibition from early childhood to young adulthood: A go/nogo ERP study.Brain Research, 1097, 181–193.
  • Jonkman, L. M., Lansbergen, M., & Stauder, J. E. A. (2003). Developmental differences in behavioral and event-related brain responses associated with response preparation and inhibition in a go/nogo task.Psychophysiology, 40, 752–761.
  • Kok, A. (1986). Effects of degradation of visual stimulation components of the event-related potential (ERP) in go/nogo reaction tasks.Biological Psychology, 23, 21–38.
  • Leonard, L. B. (1998). Children with specific language impairment. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Logan, G. D. (1994). On the ability to inhibit thought and action: A user's guide to the stop signal paradigm.In T. H. Dagenbach, & D. Carr (Eds.), Inhibitory processes in attention, memory, and language (pp. 189–239). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Lorsbach, T. C., Wilson, S., & Reimer, J. F. (1996). Memory for relevant and irrelevant information: Evidence for deficient inhibitory processes in language/learning disabled children.Contemporary Educational Psychology, 21, 447–466.
  • MacLeod, C. M., Dodd, M. D., Sheard, E. D., Wilson, D. E., & Bibi, U. (2003). In opposition to inhibition.In B. H. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (pp. 163–214). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Manly, T., Robertson, I. H., Anderson, V., & Nimmo-Smith, I. (1998). The Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch). Bury St. Edmunds, United Kingdom: Thames Valley Test Company.
  • Marton, K., Kelmenson, L., & Pinkhasova, M. (2007). Inhibition control and working memory capacity in children with SLI.Psychologia, 50, 110–121.
  • Marton, K., & Schwartz, R. G. (2003). Working memory capacity and language processes in children with specific language impairment.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 1138–1153.
  • McGregor, K., & Leonard, L. (1995). Intervention for word-finding deficits in children.In M. Fey, J. Windsor, & S. Warren (Eds.), Language intervention: Preschool through the elementary years (pp. 85–105). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
  • Miller, C. A., Kail, R., Leonard, L. B., & Tomblin, J. B. (2001). Speed of processing in children with specific language impairment.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 44, 416–433.
  • Miller, E. K., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). An integrative theory of prefrontal cortex function.Annual Review of Neuroscience, 24, 167–202.
  • Nieuwenhuis, S., Yeung, N., van den Wildenberg, W., & Ridderinkhof, R. (2003). Electrophysiological correlates of anterior cingulate function in a go/no-go task: Effects of response conflict and trial type frequency.Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 3(1), 17–26.
  • Norbury, C. F. (2005). Barking up the wrong tree? Lexical ambiguity resolution in children with language impairments and autistic spectrum disorders.Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 90, 142–171.
  • Noterdaeme, M., Amorosa, H., Mildenberger, K., Sitter, S., & Minow, F. (2001). Evaluation of attention problems in children with autism and children with a specific language disorder.European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 10, 58–66.
  • Pennington, B. F., & Ozonoff, S. (1996). Executive functions and developmental psychopathology.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 51–87.
  • Posner, M. I. (1988). Structures and functions of selective attention.In T. Boll, & B. K. Bryant (Eds.), Clinical neuropsychology and brain functions: Research, measurement, and practice (pp. 173–202). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Rapin, I., & Wilson, B. (1978). Children with developmental learning disability: Neurological aspects and assessment.In M. Wyke (Ed.), Developmental dysphasia (pp. 13–41). London, United Kingdom: Academic Press.
  • Ridderinkhof, K. R., Band, G. P. H., & Logan, G. D. (1999). A study of adaptive behavior: Effects of age and irrelevant information on the ability to inhibit one's actions.Acta Psychologica, 101, 315–337.
  • Ridderinkhof, K. R., van der Molen, M. W., Band, G. P. H., & Bashore, T. R. (1997). Sources of interference from irrelevant information: A developmental study.Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 65, 315–341.
  • Rossion, B., & Pourtois, G. (2004). Revisiting Snodgrass and Vanderwart's object set: The role of surface detail in basic-level object recognition.Perception, 33, 217–236.
  • Rueda, M. R., Fan, J., McCandliss, B., Halparin, J. D., Gruber, D. B., Lecari, L. P., & Posner, M. I. (2004). Development of attentional networks in childhood.Neuropsychologia, 42, 1029–1040.
  • Rueda, M. R., Posner, M. I., Rothbart, M. K., & Davis-Stober, C. P. (2004). Development of the time course for processing conflict: An event-related potentials study with 4 year olds and adults.BMC Neuroscience, 5(39))
  • Schmitt, B. M., Schiltz, K., Zaake, Z., Kutas, M., & Münte, T. F. (2001). An electrophysiological analysis of the time course of conceptual syntactic encoding during tacit picture naming.Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13, 510–522.
  • Schneider, W., Eschman, A., & Zuccolotto, A. (2002). E-Prime Reference Guide. Pittsburgh, PA: Psychology Software Tools.
  • Schwartz, R. G. (2009). Specific language impairment.In R. G. Schwartz (Ed.), Handbook of child language disorders (pp. 3–43). New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  • Semel, E., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. A. (2003). Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals-Fourth edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Psychological Corporation.
  • Shafer, V. L., Ponton, C., Datta, H., Morr, M., & Schwartz, R. G. (2007). Neurophysiological indices of attention to speech in children with specific language impairment.Clinical Neurophysiology, 118, 1230–1243.
  • Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 6, 174–215.
  • Tallal, P., Stark, R., Kallman, C., & Mellits, D. (1981). A reexamination of some nonverbal perceptual abilities of language-impaired and normal children as a function of age and sensory modality.Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 24, 351–357.
  • Tukey, J. W. (1977). Exploratory data analysis. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • van Veen, V., & Carter, C. S. (2002). The timing of action-monitoring processes in the anterior cingulate cortex.Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 593–602.
  • Windsor, J., & Hwang, M. (1999). Testing the generalized slowing hypothesis in specific language impairment.Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42, 1205–1218.
  • Zelazo, P. D., & Müller, U.2002). Executive function in typical and atypical development.In U. Goswami (Ed.), Handbook of childhood cognitive development (pp. 445–469). Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell.

Additional Resources