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Mental Health - Neuroscience - Pediatrics and Child Health

Infant Rule Learning: Advantage Language, or Advantage Speech?
Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Author: Hugh Rabagliati et al.

by Hugh Rabagliati, Ann Senghas, Scott Johnson, Gary F. Marcus

Infants appear to learn abstract rule-like regularities (e.g., la la da follows an AAB pattern) more easily from speech than from a variety of other auditory and visual stimuli (Marcus et al., 2007). We test if that facilitation reflects a specialization to learn from speech alone, or from modality-independent communicative stimuli more generally, by measuring 7.5-month-old infants’ ability to learn abstract rules from sign language-like gestures. Whereas infants appear to easily learn many different rules from speech, we found that with sign-like stimuli, and under circumstances comparable to those of Marcus et al. (1999), hearing infants were able to learn an ABB rule, but not an AAB rule. This is consistent with results of studies that demonstrate lower levels of infant rule learning from a variety of other non-speech stimuli, and we discuss implications for accounts of speech-facilitation.