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Infant Behav Dev. 2010 Dec;33(4):419-30. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2010.04.006. Epub 2010 May 15.

Sing that tune: infants' perception of melody and lyrics and the facilitation of phonetic recognition in songs.

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Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-7988, USA.


To better understand how infants process complex auditory input, this study investigated whether 11-month-old infants perceive the pitch (melodic) or the phonetic (lyric) components within songs as more salient, and whether melody facilitates phonetic recognition. Using a preferential looking paradigm, uni-dimensional and multi-dimensional songs were tested; either the pitch or syllable order of the stimuli varied. As a group, infants detected a change in pitch order in a 4-note sequence when the syllables were redundant (experiment 1), but did not detect the identical pitch change with variegated syllables (experiment 2). Infants were better able to detect a change in syllable order in a sung sequence (experiment 2) than the identical syllable change in a spoken sequence (experiment 1). These results suggest that by 11 months, infants cannot "ignore" phonetic information in the context of perceptually salient pitch variation. Moreover, the increased phonetic recognition in song contexts mirrors findings that demonstrate advantages of infant-directed speech. Findings are discussed in terms of how stimulus complexity interacts with the perception of sung speech in infancy.

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