Examining the Role of Auditory Sensitivity in the Developmental Weighting Shift Studies comparing children’s and adults’ labeling of speech stimuli have repeatedly shown that children’s phonological decisions are more strongly related to portions of the signal that involve rapid spectral change (i.e., formant transitions) and less related to other signal components than are adults’ decisions. Such findings have led to a ... Research Article
Research Article  |   August 01, 1998
Examining the Role of Auditory Sensitivity in the Developmental Weighting Shift
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Susan Nittrouer
    Boys Town National Research Hospital Omaha, NE
  • Court S. Crowther
    Boys Town National Research Hospital Omaha, NE
  • Contact author: Susan Nittrouer, PhD, Boys Town National Research Hospital, 555 North 30th Street, Omaha, NE 68131. Email: nittrouer@boystown.org
  • Currently affiliated with Moss Rehabilitation Hospital, Philadelphia, PA
    Currently affiliated with Moss Rehabilitation Hospital, Philadelphia, PA×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Acoustics / Hearing / Research Articles
Research Article   |   August 01, 1998
Examining the Role of Auditory Sensitivity in the Developmental Weighting Shift
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 1998, Vol. 41, 809-818. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4104.809
History: Received June 26, 1997 , Accepted January 20, 1998
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 1998, Vol. 41, 809-818. doi:10.1044/jslhr.4104.809
History: Received June 26, 1997; Accepted January 20, 1998

Studies comparing children’s and adults’ labeling of speech stimuli have repeatedly shown that children’s phonological decisions are more strongly related to portions of the signal that involve rapid spectral change (i.e., formant transitions) and less related to other signal components than are adults’ decisions. Such findings have led to a model termed the Developmental Weighting Shift, which suggests that children initially assign particularly strong weight to formant transitions to help delimit individual words in the continuous speech stream but gradually modify these strategies to be more like those of adults as they learn about word-internal structure. The goal of the current study was to test a reasonable alternative: that these apparent age-related differences in perceptual weighting strategies for speech are instead due to age-related differences in auditory sensitivity. To this end, difference limens (DLs) were obtained from children (ages 5 and 7 years) and adults for three types of acoustic properties: dynamic-spectral, static-spectral, and temporal. Two testable hypotheses were offered: Labeling results could reflect either absolute differences in sensitivity between children and adults or relative differences in sensitivity within each group. Empirical support for either hypothesis would indicate that apparent developmental changes in perceptual weighting strategies are actually due to developmental changes in auditory sensitivity to acoustic properties. Results of this study contradicted predictions of both hypotheses, sustaining the suggestion that children’s perceptual weighting strategies for speech-relevant acoustic properties change as they gain experience with a native language.

Acknowledgments
Work on this project was supported by grant number RO1 DC-00633 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health, granted to Susan Nittrouer. The authors thank Carol A. Fowler, Walt Jesteadt, and Patricia G. Stelmachowicz for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Marnie Miller and Mary Jane Manhart helped with data collection. The authors also thank Donna L. Neff for suggestions regarding stimulus design.
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