Skip to main content Accessibility help

Effects of social games on infant vocalizations*



The aim of the present study was to examine the contextual effects of social games on prelinguistic vocalizations. The two main goals were to (1) investigate the functions of vocalizations as symptoms of affective arousal and symbols of social understanding, and (2) explore form–function (de)coupling relations between vocalization types and game contexts. Seventy-one six-month-olds and sixty-four twelve-month-olds played with their mothers in normal and perturbed tickle and peek-a-boo games. The effects of infant age, game, game climax, and game perturbation on the frequency and types of infant vocalizations were examined. Results showed twelve-month-olds vocalized more mature canonical syllables during peek-a-boo and more primitive quasi-resonant nuclei during tickle than six-month-olds. Six- and twelve-month-olds increased their vocalizations from the set-up to climax during peek-a-boo, but they did not show such an increase during tickle. Findings support the symptom function of prelinguistic vocalizations reflecting affective arousal and the prevalence of form–function decoupling during the first year of life.


Corresponding author

[*]Address for correspondence: Hui-Chin Hsu, University of Georgia – Child & Family Development, McPhaul Center, Athens, Georgia 30602, United States. e-mail:


Hide All
Barr, R. G., Hopkins, B. & Green, J. A. (2000). Crying as a sign, a symptom, and a signal: clinical, emotional, and developmental aspects of infant and toddler crying. London: MacKeith.
Bennett, D. S., Bendersky, M. & Lewis, M. (2005). Does the organization of emotional expression change over time? Facial expressivity from 4 to 12 months. Infancy 8(2), 167–87.
Berger, J. & Cunningham, C. C. (1983). Development of early vocal behaviors and interactions in Down's syndrome and nonhandicapped infant–mother pairs. Developmental Psychology 19(3), 322–31.
Bloom, K. (1990). Selectivity and early infant vocalization. In Enns, J. T. (ed.), The development of attention: research and theory, 121–36. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
Cheng, M. F. (2003). Vocal self-stimulation: from the ring dove story to emotion-based vocal communication. Advances in the Study of behavior 33, 309353.
Delack, J. B. (1976). Aspects of infant speech development in the first year of life. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 21, 1737.
D'Odorico, L. & Franco, F. (1991). Selective production of vocalization types in different communication contexts. Journal of Child Language 18(3), 475–99.
Ferguson, C. A. (1986). Discovering sound units and constructing sound systems: it's child's play. In Perkell, J. S. & Klatt, D. H. (eds.), Invariance and variability in speech process, 3657. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Fernald, A. & O'Neill, D. K. (1993). Peekaboo across cultures: how mothers and infants play with voices, faces, and expectations. In Macdonald, K. (ed.), Parent–child play: descriptions and implications, 259–85. Albany: SUNY Press.
Fogel, A., Hsu, H.-C., Shapiro, A. F., Nelson-Goens, G. C. & Secrist, C. (2006). Effects of normal and perturbed social play on the duration and amplitude of different types of infant smiles. Developmental Psychology 42(3), 459–73.
Fogel, A., Nelson-Goens, G. C., Hsu, H.-C. & Shapiro, A. F. (2000). Do different infant smiles reflect different positive emotions? Social Development 9(4), 497520.
Goldstein, M. H., Schwade, J. A. & Bornstein, M. H. (2009). The value of vocalizing: five-month-old infants associate their own noncry vocalizations with responses from caregivers. Child Development 80(3), 636–44.
Goldstein, M. H., Schwade, J., Briesch, J. & Syal, S. (2010). Learning while babbling: prelinguistic object-directed vocalizations indicate a readiness to learn. Infancy 15(4), 362–91.
Greenfield, P. M. (1972). Playing peekaboo with a four-month-old: a study of the role of speech and nonspeech sounds in the formation of a visual schema. Journal of Psychology 82, 287–98.
Halliday, M. A. K. (1975). Learning how to mean: explorations in the development of language. London: Edward Arnold.
Harris, C. R. & Alvarado, N. (2005). Facial expressions, smile types, and self-report during humour, tickle, and pain. Cognition and Emotion 19(5), 655–69.
Hilke, D. D. (1988). Infant vocalizations and changes in experience. Journal of Child Language 15(1), 115.
Hsu, H. & Fogel, A. (1999). Infants' vocal response to tickles: effects of anticipation or sensorimotor feedback? Poster presented at the Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Hsu, H. & Fogel, A. (2001). Infant vocal development in a changing mother–infant communication system. Infancy 2, 87109.
Hsu, H. & Fogel, A. (2003). Social regulatory effects of infant nondistress vocalization on maternal behavior. Developmental Psychology 39(6), 976–91.
Hsu, H., Fogel, A. & Cooper, R. B. (2000). Infant vocal development during the first six months: speech quality and melodic complexity. Infant and Child Development 9, 116.
Kaye, K. & Fogel, A. (1980). The temporal structure of face-to-face communication between mothers and infants. Developmental Psychology 16, 454–64.
Keller, H. & Schölmerich, A. (1987). Infant vocalizations and parental reactions during the first 4 months of life. Developmental Psychology 23(1), 6267.
Legerstee, M. (1991). Changes in the quality of infant sounds as a function of social and nonsocial stimulation. First Language 11, 327–43.
Locke, J. L. (2001). First communication: the emergence of vocal relationships. Social Development 10(3), 294308.
Locke, J. L. (2006). Parental selection of vocal behavior: crying, cooing, babbling, and the evolution of language. Human Nature 17(2), 155–68.
McCall, R. B. (1972). Smiling and vocalization in infants as indices of perceptual-cognitive processes. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 18(4), 341–47.
McCune, L., Vihman, M. M., Roug-Hellichius, L., Delery, D. B. & Gogate, L. (1996). Grunt communication in human infants (Homo sapiens). Journal of Comparative Psychology 110, 2737.
Millar, W. S. (1988). Smiling, vocal, and attentive behavior during social contingency learning in seven- and ten-month-old infants. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 34(3), 301325.
Nagy, E. (2008). Innate intersubjectivity: newborns' sensitivity to communication disturbance. Developmental Psychology 44(6), 1779–84.
Nadel, J., Soussignan, R., Canet, P., Libert, G. & Gerardin, P. (2005). Two-month-old infants of depressed mothers show mild, delayed and persistent change in emotional state after non-contingent interaction. Infant behavior and Development 28, 418–25.
Nathani, S., Ertmer, D. J. & Stark, R. E. (2006). Assessing vocal development in infants and toddlers. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics 20(5), 351–69.
Nathani, S. & Oller, D. K. (2001). Beyond ba-ba and gu-gu: challenges and strategies in coding infant vocalizations. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers 33(3), 321–30.
Oller, D. K. (1980). The emergence of sounds of speech in infancy. In Yeni-Komshian, G., Kavanagh, J. & Ferguson, C. (eds.), Child phonology, vol. 1: Production, 93112. New York: Academic Press.
Oller, D. K. (2000). The emergence of the speech capacity. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Oller, D. K. (2004). Underpinnings for a theory of commucative evolution. In Oller, D. K. & Griebel, U. (eds.), Evolution of communication systems: a comparative approach, 4965. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.
Oller, D. K., Eilers, R. E., Steffens, M. L., Lynch, M. P. & Urbano, R. (1994). Speech-like vocalizations in infancy: an evaluation of potential risk factors. Journal of Child Language 21(1), 3358.
Oller, D. K. & Griebel, U. (2005). Contextual freedom in human infant vocalization and the evolution of language. In Burgess, R. L. & MacDonald, K. (eds.), Evolutionary perspectives on human development, 2nd ed., 135–65. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Owings, D. H. & Morton, E. S. (1998). Animal vocal communication: a new approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Papoušek, M. (1989). Determinants of responsiveness to infant vocal expression of emotional state. Infant Behavior and Development 12, 507524.
Papoušek, M. & Papoušek, H. (1989). Forms and functions of vocal matching in interactions between mothers and their precanonical infants. First Language 9(26), 137–57.
Parrott, W. G. & Gleitman, H. (1989). Infants expectations in play: the joy of peek-a-boo. Cognition and Emotion 3(4), 291311.
Poulson, C. L. & Nunes, L. R. (1988). The infant vocal-conditioning literature: a theoretical and methodological critique. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 46(3), 438–50.
Ratner, M. & Bruner, J. S. (1978). Games, social exchange and the acquisition of language. Journal of Child Language 5, 391401.
Rome-Flanders, T. & Cronk, C. (1995). A longitudinal study of infant vocalizations during mother–infant games. Journal of Child Language 22(2), 259–74.
Rome-Flanders, T. & Ricard, M. (1992). Infant timing of vocalizations in two mother–infant games: a longitudinal study. First Language 12(36), 285–97.
Scherer, K. R. (1982). The assessment of vocal expression in infants and children. In Izard, C. E. (ed.), Measuring emotions in infants and children, 127–63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Scherer, K. R. (1988). On the symbolic functions of vocal affect expression. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 7(2), 79100.
Scherer, K. R. (1992). Vocal affect expression as symptom, symbol, and appeal. In Papoušek, H., Jurgens, U. & Papousek, M. (eds.), Nonverbal vocal communication: comparative and developmental approaches, 4360. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sroufe, L. A. & Wunsch, J. P. (1972). The development of laughter in the first year of life. Child Development 43, 1326–44.
Stark, R. E. (1980). Stages of speech development in the first year of life. In Yeni-Komshian, G., Kavanagh, J. F. & Ferguson, C. A. (eds.), Child phonology: I. Production, 7390. New York: Academic Press.
Stark, R. E. (1989). Temporal patterning of cry and non-cry sounds in the first eight months of life. First Language 9(26), 107136.
Stark, R. E., Bernstein, L. E. & Demorest, M. E. (1993). Vocal communication in the first 18 months of life. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 36(3), 548–58.
van Hoorn, J. (1987). Games that babies and mothers play. In Monighan-Nourot, P., Scales, B., Hoorn, J. van & Adny, M. (eds.), Looking at children's play: a bridge between theory and practice, 3862. New York: Teacher's College.
Watson, J. S. (1972). Smiling, cooing, and ‘the game’, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 18(4), 323–39.
Yale, M. E., Messinger, D. S., Cobo-Lewis, A. B., Oller, D. K. & Eilers, R. E. (1999). An event-based analysis of the coordination of early infant vocalizations and facial actions. Developmental Psychology 36, 505513.
Zelazo, P. R. (1972). Smiling and vocalizing: a cognitive emphasis. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 18(4), 349–65.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed