Preference for speech in infancy differentially predicts language skills and autism-like behaviors

Andrea Sorcinelli, Jennifer Ference, Suzanne Curtin, Athena Vouloumanos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Early emerging biases for conspecific vocalizations are a hallmark of early development. Typically developing neonates listen to speech more than many other sounds, including non-biological non-speech sounds, but listen equally to speech and monkey calls. By 3 months of age, however, infants prefer speech over both non-biological non-speech sounds and monkey calls. We examined whether different listening preferences continue to develop along different developmental trajectories and whether listening preferences are related to developmental outcomes. Given the static preference for speech over non-biological non-speech sounds and the dynamic preference for speech over monkey calls between birth and 3 months, we examined whether 9-month-olds prefer speech over non-biological non-speech sounds (Experiment 1) and prefer speech over monkey calls (Experiment 2). We compared preferences for sounds in infants at low risk (SIBS-TD) and infants at high risk (SIBS-A) of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a heterogeneous population who differ from typically developing infants in their preferences for speech, and examined whether listening preferences predict vocabulary and autism-like behaviors at 12 months for both groups. At 9 months, SIBS-TD listened longer to speech than to non-speech sounds and listened longer to monkey calls than to speech, whereas SIBS-A listened longer to speech than to non-speech sounds but listened equally to speech and monkey calls. SIBS-TD's preferences did not predict immediate developmental outcomes. In contrast, SIBS-A who preferred speech over non-speech or monkey calls had larger vocabularies and fewer markers of autism-like behaviors at 12 months, which could have positive developmental implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-316
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of experimental child psychology
Volume178
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2019

Keywords

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Conspecifics
  • High-risk infant siblings
  • Language development
  • Social development
  • Speech perception and bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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