Five-month-old infants' identification of the sources of vocalizations

Athena Vouloumanos, Madelynn J. Druhen, Marc D. Hauser, Anouk T. Huizink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans speak, monkeys grunt, and ducks quack. How do we come to know which vocalizations animals produce? Here we explore this question by asking whether young infants expect humans, but not other animals, to produce speech, and further, whether infants have similarly restricted expectations about the sources of vocalizations produced by other species. Five-month-old infants matched speech, but not human nonspeech vocalizations, specifically to humans, looking longer at static human faces when human speech was played than when either rhesus monkey or duck calls were played. They also matched monkey calls to monkey faces, looking longer at static rhesus monkey faces when rhesus monkey calls were played than when either human speech or duck calls were played. However, infants failed to match duck vocalizations to duck faces, even though infants likely have more experience with ducks than monkeys. Results show that by 5 months of age, human infants generate expectations about the sources of some vocalizations, mapping human faces to speech and rhesus faces to rhesus calls. Infants' matching capacity does not appear to be based on a simple associative mechanism or restricted to their specific experiences. We discuss these findings in terms of how infants may achieve such competence, as well as its specificity and relevance to acquiring language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18867-18872
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Nov 3 2009


  • Cognitive development
  • Conspecific
  • Evolution
  • Language acquisition
  • Speech perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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