Across two experiments, we examine the relationship between individual differences in working memory (WM) and the acquisition of non-native speech categories in adulthood. While WM is associated with individual differences in a variety of learning tasks, successful acquisition of speech categories is argued to be contingent on WM-independent procedural-learning mechanisms. Thus, the role of WM in speech category learning is unclear. In Experiment 1, we show that individuals with higher WM acquire non-native speech categories faster and to a greater extent than those with lower WM. In Experiment 2, we replicate these results and show that individuals with higher WM use more optimal, procedural-based learning strategies and demonstrate more distinct speech-evoked pupillary responses for correct relative to incorrect trials. We propose that higher WM may allow for greater stimulus-related attention, resulting in more robust representations and optimal learning strategies. We discuss implications for neurobiological models of speech category learning.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience