Experience is instrumental in tuning a link between language and cognition: Evidence from 6- to 7- month-old infants' object categorization

Danielle R. Perszyk*, Sandra R. Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

At birth, infants not only prefer listening to human vocalizations, but also have begun to link these vocalizations to cognition: For infants as young as three months of age, listening to human language supports object categorization, a core cognitive capacity. This precocious link is initially broad: At 3 and 4 months, vocalizations of both humans and nonhuman primates support categorization. But by 6 months, infants have narrowed the link: Only human vocalizations support object categorization. Here we ask what guides infants as they tune their initially broad link to a more precise one, engaged only by the vocalizations of our species. Across three studies, we use a novel exposure paradigm to examine the effects of experience. We document that merely exposing infants to nonhuman primate vocalizations enables infants to preserve the early-established link between this signal and categorization. In contrast, exposing infants to backward speech — a signal that fails to support categorization at any age — offers no such advantage. Our findings reveal the power of early experience as infants specify which signals, from an initially broad set, they will continue to link to cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere55435
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Volume2017
Issue number122
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 19 2017

Keywords

  • Behavior
  • Categorization
  • Conceptual development
  • Developmental tuning
  • Infancy
  • Issue 122
  • Language acquisition
  • Language and thought

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)

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