Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Attention Modulates Specificity Effects in Spoken Word Recognition: Challenges to the Time-Course Hypothesis

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Attention Modulates Specificity Effects in Spoken Word Recognition: Challenges to the Time-Course Hypothesis

Article excerpt

Published online: 1 April 2015

# The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Findings in the domain of spoken word recognition have indicated that lexical representations contain both abstract and episodic information. It has been proposed that processing time determines when each source of information is recruited, with increased processing time being required to access lower-frequency episodic instantiations. The course of specificity effects has thus identified a strong role for retrieval mechanisms mediating the use of abstract versus episodic information. Here we conducted three recognition memory experiments to examine whether the findings previously attributed to retrieval mechanisms might instead reflect attention during encoding. The results from Experiment 1 showed that talker-specificity effects emerged when subjects attended to the individual speakers, but not when they attended to lexical characteristics, during encoding, even though processing times at retrieval were equivalent. The results from Experiment 2 showed that talker-specificity effects emerged when listeners attended to talker gender but not when they attended to syntactic characteristics, even though the processing times at retrieval were significantly longer in the latter condition. The results from Experiment 3 showed no talker-specificity effects when all listeners attended to lexical characteristics, even when processing at retrieval was slowed by the addition of background noise. Collectively, these results suggest that when processing time during retrieval is decoupled from encoding factors, it fails to predict the emergence of talker-specificity effects. Rather, attention during encoding appears to be the putative variable.

Keywords Speech perception . Spoken word recognition . Talker-specificity . Attention

One pervasive theme across psychological domains concerns the cognitive factors that underlie the perceptual ability to treat physically distinct elements as members of the same conceptual category. Within the domain of spoken word recognition, a primary target of research has been to describe how listeners achieve stable perception, given the marked variability in mapping between the speech signal and linguistic representations. The acoustic-phonetic information used to specify a particular consonant or vowel, and thus for individual words, can vary from utterance to utterance depending on many factors, including speaking rate (Miller, 1981), phonetic context (Delattre, Liberman, & Cooper, 1955), and even idiosyncratic differences in pronunciation across individual talkers (e.g., Klatt, 1986; Peterson & Barney, 1952; Theodore, Miller, & DeSteno, 2009). Given this variability, the challenge for the listener is to recognize physically distinct objects as being equivalent, in order to achieve robust perception.

The prevailing theoretical view for many years was that perceptual constancy for spoken language was achieved via a normalization process, such that variability in the speech signal was discarded early in the perceptual process in order to map the speech signal onto abstract linguistic representations (e.g., Ladefoged & Broadbent, 1957;Magnuson& Nusbaum, 2007; Mullennix, Pisoni, & Martin, 1989). Under such an account, information about the specific phonetic details of an utterance was thought to be absent from long-term memory. However, more recent investigations have suggested that listeners do retain surface characteristics for individual words (Goldinger, 1998; Palmeri, Goldinger, & Pisoni, 1993), which supports episodic-based models that have posited that fine-grained phonetic information is retained in R. memory (e.g., Goldinger, 1996, 1998; Grossberg, 1986). The common characteristic of these models is that each presentation of a given word is stored as a trace in memory; over time, lexical representations are viewed as a distribution centered on the most frequent experience, while also retaining specific characteristics of infrequent traces. …

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