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Speech Intonation Induces Enhanced Face Perception in Infants

Sirri, Louah and Linnert, Szilvi and Reid, Vincent and Parise, Eugenio (2020) Speech Intonation Induces Enhanced Face Perception in Infants. Scientific Reports. ISSN 2045-2322 (In Press)


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Infants’ preference for faces with direct compared to averted eye gaze, and for infant-directed over adult-directed speech, reflects early sensitivity to social communication. Here, we studied whether infant-directed speech (IDS), could affect the processing of a face with direct gaze in 4-month-olds. In a new ERP paradigm, the word ‘hello’ was uttered either in IDS or adult-direct speech (ADS) followed by an upright or inverted face. We show that the face-specific N290 ERP component was larger when faces were preceded by IDS relative to ADS. Crucially, this effect is specific to upright faces, whereas inverted faces preceded by IDS elicited larger attention-related P1 and Nc. These results suggest that IDS generates communicative expectations in infants. When such expectations are met by a following social stimulus – an upright face – infants are already prepared to process it. When the stimulus is a non-social one –inverted face – IDS merely increases general attention.

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