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Acoustic Packaging: Maternal Speech and Action Synchrony

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5 Author(s)
Meredith Meyer ; Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA ; Bridgette Hard ; Rebecca J. Brand ; Molly McGarvey
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The current study addressed the degree to which maternal speech and action are synchronous in interactions with infants. English-speaking mothers demonstrated the function of two toys, stacking rings and nesting cups to younger infants (6-9.5 months) and older infants (9.5-13 months). Action and speech units were identified, and speech units were coded as being ongoing action descriptions or nonaction descriptions (examples of nonaction descriptions include attention-getting utterances such as “Look!” or statements of action completion such as “Yay, we did it!”). Descriptions of ongoing actions were found to be more synchronous with the actions themselves in comparison to other types of utterances, suggesting that: 1) mothers align speech and action to provide synchronous “acoustic packaging” during action demonstrations; and 2) mothers selectively pair utterances directly related to actions with the action units themselves rather than simply aligning speech in general with actions. Our results complement past studies of acoustic packaging in two ways. First, we provide a quantitative temporal measure of the degree to which speech and action onsets and offsets are aligned. Second, we offer a semantically based analysis of the phenomenon, which we argue may be meaningful to infants known to process global semantic messages in infant-directed speech. In support of this possibility, we determined that adults were capable of classifying low-pass filtered action- and nonaction-describing utterances at rates above chance.

Published in:

IEEE Transactions on Autonomous Mental Development  (Volume:3 ,  Issue: 2 )