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Children perceive speech onsets by ear and eye*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2016

School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, GR4·1, University of Texas at Dallas, and Callier Center for Communication Disorders, Richardson, Texas
School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol
Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine
School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, GR4·1, University of Texas at Dallas
E-mail address:


Adults use vision to perceive low-fidelity speech; yet how children acquire this ability is not well understood. The literature indicates that children show reduced sensitivity to visual speech from kindergarten to adolescence. We hypothesized that this pattern reflects the effects of complex tasks and a growth period with harder-to-utilize cognitive resources, not lack of sensitivity. We investigated sensitivity to visual speech in children via the phonological priming produced by low-fidelity (non-intact onset) auditory speech presented audiovisually (see dynamic face articulate consonant/rhyme b/ag; hear non-intact onset/rhyme: –b/ag) vs. auditorily (see still face; hear exactly same auditory input). Audiovisual speech produced greater priming from four to fourteen years, indicating that visual speech filled in the non-intact auditory onsets. The influence of visual speech depended uniquely on phonology and speechreading. Children – like adults – perceive speech onsets multimodally. Findings are critical for incorporating visual speech into developmental theories of speech perception.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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This research was supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, grant DC-00421. Dr Abdi would like to acknowledge the support of an EURIAS fellowship at the Paris Institute for Advanced Studies (France), with the support of the European Union's 7th Framework Program for research, and funding from the French state managed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (program: Investissements d'avenir, ANR-11-LABX-0027-01 Labex RFIEA+). Sincere appreciation to (i) speech science colleagues for their guidance and advice to adopt a perceptual criterion for editing the non-intact stimuli and (ii) Dr Peter Assmann for generously giving of his time, talents, and software to prepare Figure 1. We thank Dr Brent Spehar for recording the audiovisual stimuli. We thank the children and parents who participated and the research staff who assisted, namely Aisha Aguilera, Carissa Dees, Nina Dinh, Nadia Dunkerton, Alycia Elkins, Brittany Hernandez, Cassandra Karl, Demi Krieger, Michelle McNeal, Jeffrey Okonye, Rachel Parra, and Kimberly Periman of UT-Dallas (data collection, analysis, presentation), and Derek Hammons and Scott Hawkins of UT-Dallas and Brent Spehar of Washington University School of Medicine (computer programming).


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