Sensorimotor influences on speech perception in pre-babbling infants: Replication and extension of Bruderer et al. (2015)


The relationship between speech perception and production is central to understanding language processing, yet remains under debate, particularly in early development. Recent research suggests that in infants aged 6 months, when the native phonological system is still being established, sensorimotor information from the articulators influences speech perception: The placement of a teething toy restricting tongue-tip movements interfered with infants’ discrimination of a non-native contrast, /Da/-/da/, that involves tongue-tip movement. This effect was selective: A different teething toy that prevented lip closure but not tongue-tip movement did not disrupt discrimination. We conducted two sets of studies to replicate and extend these findings. Experiments 1 and 2 replicated the study by Bruderer et al. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112 (44), 13531-13536, 2015), but with synthesized auditory stimuli. Infants discriminated the non-native contrast (dental /da/ retroflex /Da/) (Experiment 1), but showed no evidence of discrimination when the tongue-tip movement was prevented with a teething toy (Experiment 2). Experiments 3 and 4 extended this work to a native phonetic contrast (bilabial /ba/ - dental /da/). Infants discriminated the distinction with no teething toy present (Experiment 3), but when they were given a teething toy that interfered only with lip closure, a movement involved in the production of /ba/, discrimination was disrupted (Experiment 4). Importantly, this was the same teething toy that did not interfere with discrimination of /da/-/Da/ in Bruderer et al. (2015). These findings reveal specificity in the relation between sensorimotor and perceptual processes in pre-babbling infants, and show generalizability to a second phonetic contrast.

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review