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Cognition. 2009 Jun;111(3):378-82. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.02.010. Epub 2009 Mar 31.

From domain-generality to domain-sensitivity: 4-month-olds learn an abstract repetition rule in music that 7-month-olds do not.

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  • 1University of Arizona, Department of Psychology, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA. cdawson@email.arizona.edu


Learning must be constrained for it to lead to productive generalizations. Although biology is undoubtedly an important source of constraints, prior experience may be another, leading learners to represent input in ways that are more conducive to some generalizations than others, and/or to up- and down-weight features when entertaining generalizations. In two experiments, 4-month-old and 7-month-old infants were familiarized with sequences of musical chords or tones adhering either to an AAB pattern or an ABA pattern. In both cases, the 4-month-olds learned the generalization, but the 7-month-olds did not. The success of the 4-month-olds appears to contradict an account that this type of pattern learning is the provenance of a language-specific rule-learning module. It is not yet clear what drives the age-related change, but plausible candidates include differential experience with language and music, as well as interactions between general cognitive development and stimulus complexity.

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