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An investigation of young infants’ ability to match phonetic and gender information in dynamic faces and voice Patterson, Michelle Louise

Abstract

This dissertation explores the nature and ontogeny of infants' ability to match phonetic information in comparison to non-speech information in the face and voice. Previous research shows that infants' ability to match phonetic information in face and voice is robust at 4.5 months of age (e.g., Kuhl & Meltzoff, 1982; 1984; 1988; Patterson & Werker, 1999). These findings support claims that young infants can perceive structural correspondences between audio and visual aspects of phonetic input and that speech is represented amodally. It remains unclear, however, specifically what factors allow speech to be perceived amodally and whether the intermodal perception of other aspects of face and voice is like that of speech. Gender is another biologically significant cue that is available in both the face and voice. In this dissertation, nine experiments examine infants' ability to match phonetic and gender information with dynamic faces and voices. Infants were seated in front of two side-by-side video monitors which displayed filmed images of a female or male face, each articulating a vowel sound ( / a / or / i / ) in synchrony. The sound was played through a central speaker and corresponded with one of the displays but was synchronous with both. In Experiment 1,4.5-month-old infants did not look preferentially at the face that matched the gender of the heard voice when presented with the same stimuli that produced a robust phonetic matching effect. In Experiments 2 through 4, vowel and gender information were placed in conflict to determine the relative contribution of each in infants' ability to match bimodal information in the face and voice. The age at which infants do match gender information with my stimuli was determined in Experiments 5 and 6. In order to explore whether matching phonetic information in face and voice is based on featural or configural information, two experiments examined infants' ability to match phonetic information using inverted faces (Experiment 7) and upright faces with inverted mouths (Experiment 8). Finally, Experiment 9 extended the phonetic matching effect to 2-month-old infants. The experiments in this dissertation provide evidence that, at 4.5 months of age, infants are more likely to attend to phonetic information in the face and voice than to gender information. Phonetic information may have a special salience and/or unity that is not apparent in similar but non-phonetic events. The findings are discussed in relation to key theories of perceptual development.

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