The influence of spectral distinctiveness on acoustic cue weighting in children's and adults' speech perception
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Children and adults appear to weight some acoustic cues differently in perceiving certain speech contrasts. One possible explanation for this difference is that children and adults make use of different strategies in the way that they process speech. An alternative explanation is that adult-child cue weighting differences are due to more general sensory (auditory) processing differences between the two groups. It has been proposed that children may be less able to deal with incomplete or insufficient acoustic information than are adults, and thus may require cues that are longer, louder, or more spectrally distinct to identify or discriminate between auditory stimuli. The current study tested this hypothesis by examining adults' and 3- to 7-year-old children's cue weighting for contrasts in which vowel-onset formant transitions varied from spectrally distinct (/no/-/mo/, /do/-/bo/, and /ta/-/da/) to spectrally similar (/ni/-/mi/, /de/-/be/, and /ti/-/di/). Spectrally distinct cues were more likely to yield different consonantal responses than were spectrally similar cues, for all listeners. Furthermore, as predicted by a sensory hypothesis, children were less likely to give different consonantal responses to stimuli distinguished by spectrally similar transitional cues than were adults. However, this pattern of behavior did not hold for all contrasts. Implications for theories of adult-child cue weighting differences are discussed.