Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Study Contradicts Conventional Wisdom that Perceptual Abilities Improve as We Grow

A study of Spanish- and English- learning infants provides evidence that our perceptual abilities do not improve as we get older, and that younger infants may actually be better at integrating facial speech gestures and vocalizations than older infants. The developmental decline in this ability may be due to increasing specialization for native-language phonology as infants learn their own speech and language.

Conventional wisdom says that human perceptual and cognitive functions broaden and improve as humans grow and mature, but a study published in the June 17 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides evidence that the opposite occurs in infant perception of audiovisual speech.

Researchers from the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University and the Universities of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra in Spain studied English-learning infants in the United States and Spanish-learning infants in Spain to determine if they can perceive people’s facial speech gestures and accompanying vocalizations as part of the same event.

The ability do this is crucial for adaptive communication. Dr. David J. Lewkowicz, professor of psychology in FAU’s College of Science and head of the Infant Development Laboratory, and his colleagues, Drs. Ferran Pons, Salvador Soto-Faraco and Núria Sebastián-Gallés from Spain, hypothesized that younger infants may actually be better at integrating facial speech gestures and vocalizations than older infants and that the developmental decline in this ability may be due to increasing specialization for native-language phonology as infants learn their own speech and language.

“Our hypothesis is contrary to conventional wisdom because it assumes that perceptual abilities improve as infants develop,” said Lewkowicz. “Consistent with our hypothesis, we found that younger infants could integrate the facial and vocal gestures of foreign speech sounds, but that older infants no longer did.”

The results of this study provide the first evidence that perception of audiovisual non-native speech narrows during infancy precisely during the time that infants are acquiring their native language phonological system. These researchers demonstrate that the perceptual system becomes gradually tuned to key native-language audio-visual correspondence, and as it does so, sensitivity to the phonetic information inherent in foreign language sounds declines.

To investigate their hypothesis, the researchers presented infants with speech syllables (/ba/ and /va/) that are distinguishable to English speakers but not to Spanish speakers. During the experiment, infants first watched side-by-side videos of the same person silently and repeatedly uttering a /ba/ syllable on one computer monitor and a /va/ syllable on the other monitor. Results of this test showed that the infants did not prefer one syllable over the other. Then, the researchers allowed the infants to listen to either the /ba/ or the /va/ syllable for 45 seconds and then tested their preferences for the visual syllables again by showing the silent versions of the side-by-side syllables. This time, the six-month-old Spanish infants showed a clear preference for the visible syllable that matched the audible syllable that they had just heard, indicating that they perceived them as belonging together. In contrast, the 11-month-old Spanish infants did not show such a preference indicating that they did not perceive the audible and visible syllables as belonging together. This latter finding was consistent with the fact that the /v/ sound does not exist in Spanish and with the idea that the older Spanish-learning infants’ greater experience with the Spanish language reduced their sensitivity to the visible and audible sounds of other languages.

Unlike the decline in the ability to integrate auditory and visual speech in Spanish-learning infants, the researchers found that both six-month-old and 11-month-old English-learning infants successfully matched the audible and visible syllables. In addition, the researchers confirmed that the decline in the perception of non-native audiovisual speech persists into adulthood by showing that Spanish adults were unable to integrate the same syllables that were presented to the infants, but that English adults easily did.

“It is important to emphasize that the perceptual narrowing that we found does not reflect a complete loss of perceptual sensitivity to non-native sensory inputs,” said Lewkowicz. “Rather, it reflects a reorganization of perceptual mechanisms that then leads to decreased sensitivity to non-native sensory inputs.”

Florida Atlantic University opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University serves more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students on seven campuses strategically located along 150 miles of Florida's southeastern coastline. Building on its rich tradition as a teaching university, with a world-class faculty, FAU hosts ten colleges: College of Architecture, Urban & Public Affairs, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science, the Barry Kaye College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Engineering & Computer Science, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Graduate College, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

Gisele Galoustian | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>