Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Primate calls, like human speech, can help infants form categories

Date:
September 2, 2013
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Human infants' responses to the vocalizations of non-human primates shed light on the developmental origin of a crucial link between human language and core cognitive capacities, a new study reports.Previous studies have shown that even in infants too young to speak, listening to human speech supports core cognitive processes, including the formation of object categories.Researchers documented that this link is initially broad enough to include the vocalizations of non-human primates.

Mantled howler (Alouatta seniculus) howling.
Credit: michaklootwijk / Fotolia

Human infants' responses to the vocalizations of non-human primates shed light on the developmental origin of a crucial link between human language and core cognitive capacities, a new study reports.

Previous studies have shown that even in infants too young to speak, listening to human speech supports core cognitive processes, including the formation of object categories.

Alissa Ferry, lead author and currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Language, Cognition and Development Lab at the Scuola Internationale Superiore di Studi Avanzati in Trieste, Italy, together with Northwestern University colleagues, documented that this link is initially broad enough to include the vocalizations of non-human primates.

"We found that for 3- and 4-month-old infants, non-human primate vocalizations promoted object categorization, mirroring exactly the effects of human speech, but that by six months, non-human primate vocalizations no longer had this effect -- the link to cognition had been tuned specifically to human language," Ferry said.

In humans, language is the primary conduit for conveying our thoughts. The new findings document that for young infants, listening to the vocalizations of humans and non-human primates supports the fundamental cognitive process of categorization. From this broad beginning, the infant mind identifies which signals are part of their language and begins to systematically link these signals to meaning.

Furthermore, the researchers found that infants' response to non-human primate vocalizations at three and four months was not just due to the sounds' acoustic complexity, as infants who heard backward human speech segments failed to form object categories at any age.

Susan Hespos, co-author and associate professor of psychology at Northwestern said, "For me, the most stunning aspect of these findings is that an unfamiliar sound like a lemur call confers precisely the same effect as human language for 3- and 4-month-old infants. More broadly, this finding implies that the origins of the link between language and categorization cannot be derived from learning alone."

"These results reveal that the link between language and object categories, evident as early as three months, derives from a broader template that initially encompasses vocalizations of human and non-human primates and is rapidly tuned specifically to human vocalizations," said Sandra Waxman, co-author and Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology at Northwestern.

Waxman said these new results open the door to new research questions.

"Is this link sufficiently broad to include vocalizations beyond those of our closest genealogical cousins," asks Waxman, "or is it restricted to primates, whose vocalizations may be perceptually just close enough to our own to serve as early candidates for the platform on which human language is launched?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alissa Ferry et al. Non-human primate vocalizations support categorizations in very young human infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 3, 2013

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Primate calls, like human speech, can help infants form categories." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130902162714.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2013, September 2). Primate calls, like human speech, can help infants form categories. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130902162714.htm
Northwestern University. "Primate calls, like human speech, can help infants form categories." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130902162714.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) A study by King's College London says there's a link between how well kids draw at age 4 and how intelligent they are later in life. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins