Sounds that support concept learning

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Chapter 5 endnote 29, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

When the same experiment was performed with audio tones instead of human speech, the effect never materialized. [...] Other sounds don’t work either.

The effect is also absent when using melodies, mechanical noises made by toys, or human vocalizations that are not words.[1][2][3] Nonlinguistic sounds only promote concept formation when produced intentionally by the experimenter and offered as a label for objects when interacting with an infant.[4][5][6][7][8] Interestingly, when the human speech was replaced by lemur calls, Waxman showed that primate sounds also encourage concepts to form, and it is not until about six months of age that human infants become specifically attuned to the potency of words.[3][9]

Babies can learn concepts from just about any symbol used by humans to communicate intentionally, even Morse code-like beeps, if they watch adults “speaking” and “responding” with them. Newborns naturally orient to human speech, however, preferring it to other sounds, which predisposes infants to learn concepts.[10]


Notes on the Notes

  1. Balaban, Marie T., and Sandra R. Waxman. 1997. "Do words facilitate object categorization in 9-month-old infants?" Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 64 (1): 3-26.
  2. Fulkerson, Anne L., and Sandra R. Waxman. 2007. "Words (but not tones) facilitate object categorization: Evidence from 6-and 12-month-olds." Cognition 105 (1): 218-228.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ferry, Alissa L., Susan J. Hespos, and Sandra R. Waxman. 2010. "Categorization in 3‐and 4‐month‐old infants: an advantage of words over tones." Child Development 81 (2): 472-479.
  4. Fulkerson, 1997 [full reference to be provided]
  5. Fulkerson, Anne L., and Robert A. Haaf. 2003. "The influence of labels, non-labeling sounds, and source of auditory input on 9-and 15-month-olds' object categorization." Infancy 4 (3): 349-369.
  6. Namy, Laura L., and Sandra R. Waxman. 1998. "Words and gestures: Infants' interpretations of different forms of symbolic reference." Child Development 69 (2): 295-308.
  7. Namy, Laura L., and Sandra R. Waxman. 2000. "Naming and exclaiming: Infants' sensitivity to naming contexts." Journal of Cognition and Development 1 (4): 405-428.
  8. Namy, Laura L., and Sandra R. Waxman. 2002. "Patterns of spontaneous production of novel words and gestures within an experimental setting in children ages 1; 6 and 2; 2." Journal of Child Language 29 (4): 911-921.
  9. Ferry, Alissa L., Susan J. Hespos, and Sandra R. Waxman. 2013. "Nonhuman primate vocalizations support categorization in very young human infants." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (38): 15231-15235.
  10. Vouloumanos, Athena, and Sandra R. Waxman. 2014. "Listen up! Speech is for thinking during infancy." Trends in Cognitive Sciences 18 (12): 642-646.