Communicative signals promote abstract rule learning by 7-month-old infants

Brock FergusonNorthwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Casey Lew-WilliamsPrinceton University, Princeton, NJ, USA

Abstract

Infants’ ability to detect patterns in speech input is central to their acquisition of language, and recent evidence suggests that their cognitive faculties may be specifically tailored to this task: Seven-month-olds reliably abstract rule-like structures (e.g., ABB vs. ABA) from speech, but not other stimuli. Here we ask what drives this speech advantage. Specifically, we propose that infants’ learning from speech is driven by their representation of speech as a communicative signal. As evidence for this claim, we report an experiment in which 7-month-old infants (N=28) learned rules from a novel sound (sine-wave tones) introduced as a communicative signal, but failed to learn the same rules from tones presented in non-communicative contexts. These findings highlight the powerful influence of social-communicative contexts on infants’ learning.

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Communicative signals promote abstract rule learning by 7-month-old infants (285 KB)



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