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Three-month-old human infants use vocal cues of body size.

  • Author(s): Pietraszewski, David
  • Wertz, Annie E
  • Bryant, Gregory A
  • Wynn, Karen
  • et al.
Abstract

Differences in vocal fundamental (F0) and average formant (Fn) frequencies covary with body size in most terrestrial mammals, such that larger organisms tend to produce lower frequency sounds than smaller organisms, both between species and also across different sex and life-stage morphs within species. Here we examined whether three-month-old human infants are sensitive to the relationship between body size and sound frequencies. Using a violation-of-expectation paradigm, we found that infants looked longer at stimuli inconsistent with the relationship-that is, a smaller organism producing lower frequency sounds, and a larger organism producing higher frequency sounds-than at stimuli that were consistent with it. This effect was stronger for fundamental frequency than it was for average formant frequency. These results suggest that by three months of age, human infants are already sensitive to the biologically relevant covariation between vocalization frequencies and visual cues to body size. This ability may be a consequence of developmental adaptations for building a phenotype capable of identifying and representing an organism's size, sex and life-stage.

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