Knowing Your Name: Hearing and Recognition in Infants

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The University of Maryland McNair Scholars Undergraduate Research Journal, Vol. 3, 2011: 34-42.



Infants are constantly placed in situations where they are exposed to multiple sources of sound including orators, music, television, or other causes of background noise. Young infants have the ability to separate streams of speech and selectively attend to speech signals, however little is known about the performance of infants and the cues used to recognize speech in the presence of background noise. In order to comprehend language development in infants, we must be able to understand how they acquire language despite noisy situations. This quantitative study seeks to examine how well infants from 3.5 – 5.5 months pay attention and process speech when in the presence of a competing background noise. The head-turn preference procedure was conducted, and stimuli were created based on the infants own name and a foil name, presented in constant and varying-amplitude noise in order to test the infants’ ability to recognize their own name (a familiar word) despite the opposing noise. Preliminary results indicate that infants displayed a preference for their own name under the constant-amplitude condition only . This suggests that the varying-amplitude condition is too distracting for infants to recognize speech and may not be as useful for their language acquisition in comparison to constant-amplitude. However, due to the lack of participation, further testing must continue to gain significant results and to draw further conclusions among infants of this age group.