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J Acoust Soc Am. 1995 Jan;97(1):553-62.

Mapping the perceptual magnet effect for speech using signal detection theory and multidimensional scaling.

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  • 1Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle 98195.


Recent experiments have demonstrated that the category goodness of speech sounds strongly influences perception in both adult and infants [Kuhl, Percept. Psychophys. 50, 93-107 (1991); Kuhl et al., Science 255, 606-608 (1992)]. Stimuli judged as exceptionally good instances of phonetic categories (prototypes) make neighboring tokens in the vowel space seem more similar, exhibiting a perceptual magnet effect. Three experiments further examined the perceptual magnet effect in adults. Experiment 1 collected goodness and identification judgments for 13 variants of the vowel /i/. Experiment 2 used signal detection theory to assess the discrimination of these tokens using a bias-free measure (d'). Experiment 3 employed multidimensional scaling (MDS) to geometrically model the distortion of the perceptual space due to the magnet effect. The results demonstrated a strong relationship between category goodness and discrimination. Vowel tokens receiving high goodness ratings in experiment 1 were more difficult to discriminate in experiment 2 and were more tightly clustered in the MDS solutions of experiment 3. These findings support the existence of a perceptual magnet effect, and may help explain some aspects of first language learning in infants and second language learning in adults.

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