Title page for ETD etd-05212009-203927

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Versele, Jessica
Author's Email Address jversele@vt.edu
URN etd-05212009-203927
Title Effects of Voice Quality and Face Information on Infants' Speech Perception in Noise
Degree Master of Science
Department Psychology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Cooper, Robin K. Panneton Committee Chair
Dannenberg, Clare Committee Member
Deater-Deckard, Kirby Committee Member
  • Infant Speech Perception
  • Infant-directed Speech
  • Informational Masking
  • Infant Attention
Date of Defense 2009-05-04
Availability unrestricted
A recent study by Polka, Rvachew, and Molnar (2008) found that 6- to 8-month-old infants do

not discriminate a simple native consonant-vowel contrast when familiarized to it in the presence

of distraction noise (i.e., recordings of crickets and birds chirping), even when testing was

conducted in quiet. Because the distraction noise did not overlap with the phonemes’

frequencies, failure to encode the familiarization phoneme could be due more to a disruption in

infant attention than to direct masking effects. Given that infants learn speech under natural

conditions involving noise and distraction, it is important to identify factors that may ‘protect’

their speech perception under non-ideal listening conditions. The current study investigated

three possible factors: speech register, face information, and speaker gender. Six-month-old

infants watched a video of a female speaker producing a native phoneme in either an adultdirected

or infant-directed manner accompanied by the same background noise as in Polka et al.

(2008). After habituation, infants were tested with alternating trials of the familiar phoneme and

a novel phoneme in quiet. Phoneme discrimination was measured by recording infants’ heart

rate and looking times during familiar and novel trials. Discrimination was poor in infants who

viewed a female speaker using adult-directed speech but was significantly improved (as seen in

both dependent measures of attention) when the female speaker used infant-directed speech.

Results indicate that common factors in the typical environment of infants can promote speech

perception abilities in noise.

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