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The sound of silence: Reconsidering infants’ object categorization in silence, with labels, and with nonlinguistic sounds

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number105475
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/08/2023
Number of pages8
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date4/05/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


A large body of research based on a specific stimulus set (dinosaur/fish) has argued that auditory labels and novel communicative signals (such as beeps used in a communicative context) facilitate category formation in infants, that such effects can be attributed to the auditory signals' communicative nature, and that other auditory stimuli have no effect on categorization. A contrasting view, the auditory overshadowing hypothesis, maintains that auditory signals disrupt processing of visual information and, therefore, interfere with categorization, with more unfamiliar sounds having a more disruptive effect than familiar ones. Here, we used the dinosaur/fish stimulus set to test these contrasting theories in two experiments. In Experiment 1 (N = 17), we found that 6-month-old infants were able to form categories of these stimuli in silence, weakening the claim that labels facilitated their categorization in infants. These results imply that prior findings of no categorization of these stimuli in the presence of nonlinguistic sounds must be due to disruptive effects of such sounds. In Experiment 2 (N = 17), we showed that familiarity modulated the disruptive effect of nonlinguistic sounds on infants' categorization of these stimuli. Together, these results support the auditory overshadowing hypothesis and provide new insights into the interaction between visual and auditory information in infants' category formation.