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Is Statistical Learning Constrained by Lower Level Perceptual Organization?

Author(s): Emberson, Lauren L.; Liu, Ran; Zevin, Jason D.

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Abstract: In order for statistical information to aid in complex developmental processes such as language acquisition, learning from higher-order statistics (e.g. across successive syllables in a speech stream to support segmentation) must be possible while perceptual abilities (e.g. speech categorization) are still developing. The current study examines how perceptual organization interacts with statistical learning. Adult participants were presented with multiple exemplars from novel, complex sound categories designed to reflect some of the spectral complexity and variability of speech. These categories were organized into sequential pairs and presented such that higher-order statistics, defined based on sound categories, could support stream segmentation. Perceptual similarity judgments and multi-dimensional scaling revealed that participants only perceived three perceptual clusters of sounds and thus did not distinguish the four experimenterdefined categories, creating a tension between lower level perceptual organization and higherorder statistical information. We examined whether the resulting pattern of learning is more consistent with statistical learning being “bottom-up,” constrained by the lower levels of organization, or “top-down,” such that higher-order statistical information of the stimulus stream takes priority over the perceptual organization, and perhaps influences perceptual organization. We consistently find evidence that learning is constrained by perceptual organization. Moreover, participants generalize their learning to novel sounds that occupy a similar perceptual space, suggesting that statistical learning occurs based on regions of or clusters in perceptual space. Overall, these results reveal a constraint on learning of sound sequences, such that statistical information is determined based on lower level organization. These findings have important implications for the role of statistical learning in language acquisition.
Publication Date: Jul-2013
Citation: Emberson, Lauren L, Liu, Ran, Zevin, Jason D. (2013). Is statistical learning constrained by lower level perceptual organization?. Cognition, 128 (1), 82 - 102. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2012.12.006
DOI: doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2012.12.006
ISSN: 0010-0277
Pages: 82 - 102
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Cognition
Version: Author's manuscript

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