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Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2013;66(4):705-26. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2012.713367. Epub 2012 Sep 6.

Contextual influences on children's use of vocal affect cues during referential interpretation.

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Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada.


In three experiments, we investigated 5-year-olds' sensitivity to speaker vocal affect during referential interpretation in cases where the indeterminacy is or is not resolved by speech information. In Experiment 1, analyses of eye gaze patterns and pointing behaviours indicated that 5-year-olds used vocal affect cues at the point where an ambiguous description was encountered. In Experiments 2 and 3, we used unambiguous situations to investigate how the referential context influences the ability to use affect cues earlier in the utterance. Here, we found a differential use of speaker vocal affect whereby 5-year-olds' referential hypotheses were influenced by negative vocal affect cues in advance of the noun, but not by positive affect cues. Together, our findings reveal how 5-year-olds use a speaker's vocal affect to identify potential referents in different contextual situations and also suggest that children may be more attuned to negative vocal affect than positive vocal affect, particularly early in an utterance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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