Infants' selective use of reliable cues in multidimensional language input

Christine E. Potter, Casey Lew-Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Learning always happens from input that contains multiple structures and multiple sources of variability. Though infants possess learning mechanisms to locate structure in the world, lab-based experiments have rarely probed how infants contend with input that contains many different structures and cues. Two experiments explored infants' use of two naturally occurring sources of variability- different sounds and different people-to detect regularities in language. Monolingual infants (9-10 months) heard a male and female talker produce two different speech streams, one of which followed a deterministic pattern (e.g., AAB, le-le-di) and one of which did not. For half of the infants, each speaker produced only one of the streams; for the other half of the infants, each speaker produced 50% of each stream. In Experiment 1, each stream consisted of distinct sounds, and infants successfully demonstrated learning regardless of the correspondence between speaker and stream. In Experiment 2, each stream consisted of the same sounds, and infants failed to show learning, even when speakers provided a perfect cue for separating each stream. Thus, monolingual infants can learn in the presence of multiple speech streams, but these experiments suggest that infants may rely more on sound-based rather than speaker-based distinctions when breaking into the structure of incoming information. This selective use of some cues over others highlights infants' ability to adaptively focus on distinctions that are most likely to be useful as they sort through their inherently multidimensional surroundings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


  • Cognitive development
  • Infant language learning
  • Rule learning
  • Statistical learning


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