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The Tuning of Human Neonates' Preference for Speech

Athena Vouloumanos, Marc D. Hauser, Janet F. Werker and Alia Martin
Child Development
Vol. 81, No. 2 (MARCH/APRIL 2010), pp. 517-527
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40598998
Page Count: 11
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The Tuning of Human Neonates' Preference for Speech
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Abstract

Human neonates prefer listening to speech compared to many nonspeech sounds, suggesting that humans are born with a bias for speech. However, neonates' preference may derive from properties of speech that are not unique but instead are shared with the vocalizations of other species. To test this, thirty neonates and sixteen 3-month-olds were presented with nonsense speech and rhesus monkey vocalizations. Neonates showed no preference for speech over rhesus vocalizations but showed a preference for both these sounds over synthetic sounds. In contrast, 3-month-olds preferred speech to rhesus vocalizations. Neonates' initial biases minimally include speech and monkey vocalizations. These listening preferences are sharpened over 3 months, yielding a species-specific preference for speech, paralleling findings on infant face perception.

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