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Acoustic regularities in infant-directed speech and song across cultures


Hilton, Courtney B; Moser, Cody J; Bertolo, Mila; et al; Scaff, Camila (2022). Acoustic regularities in infant-directed speech and song across cultures. Nature Human Behaviour, 6(11):1545-1556.

Abstract

When interacting with infants, humans often alter their speech and song in ways thought to support communication. Theories of human child-rearing, informed by data on vocal signalling across species, predict that such alterations should appear globally. Here, we show acoustic differences between infant-directed and adult-directed vocalizations across cultures. We collected 1,615 recordings of infant- and adult-directed speech and song produced by 410 people in 21 urban, rural and small-scale societies. Infant-directedness was reliably classified from acoustic features only, with acoustic profiles of infant-directedness differing across language and music but in consistent fashions. We then studied listener sensitivity to these acoustic features. We played the recordings to 51,065 people from 187 countries, recruited via an English-language website, who guessed whether each vocalization was infant-directed. Their intuitions were more accurate than chance, predictable in part by common sets of acoustic features and robust to the effects of linguistic relatedness between vocalizer and listener. These findings inform hypotheses of the psychological functions and evolution of human communication.

Abstract

When interacting with infants, humans often alter their speech and song in ways thought to support communication. Theories of human child-rearing, informed by data on vocal signalling across species, predict that such alterations should appear globally. Here, we show acoustic differences between infant-directed and adult-directed vocalizations across cultures. We collected 1,615 recordings of infant- and adult-directed speech and song produced by 410 people in 21 urban, rural and small-scale societies. Infant-directedness was reliably classified from acoustic features only, with acoustic profiles of infant-directedness differing across language and music but in consistent fashions. We then studied listener sensitivity to these acoustic features. We played the recordings to 51,065 people from 187 countries, recruited via an English-language website, who guessed whether each vocalization was infant-directed. Their intuitions were more accurate than chance, predictable in part by common sets of acoustic features and robust to the effects of linguistic relatedness between vocalizer and listener. These findings inform hypotheses of the psychological functions and evolution of human communication.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Social Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Life Sciences > Behavioral Neuroscience
Uncontrolled Keywords:Behavioral Neuroscience, Experimental and Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology
Language:English
Date:18 July 2022
Deposited On:09 Jan 2023 10:18
Last Modified:28 Jun 2024 01:37
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2397-3374
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-022-01410-x
PubMed ID:35851843
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  • : FunderRoyal Society of New Zealand
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  • : Grant ID298513
  • : Project TitleCLIMBP - Into the Icehouse - Ocean temperatures from CLumped Isotopes in Benthic and planktic foraminifera across the Eocene-­Oligocene climate transition
  • : FunderFogarty International CenterNHLBININDSNIAID
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  • : FunderFogarty International Center
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  • : FunderBritish Academy
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  • : FunderFondation Pierre Mercier
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  • : FunderHarvard University Department of Psychology
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  • : FunderHarvard Data Science InitiativeHarvard University Department of Psychology
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