From Psychoacoustics to Brain Waves: A Longitudinal Approach to Novel Word Learning


  • Barbaroux Mylène
  • Noreña Arnaud J
  • Rasamimanana Maud
  • Castet Eric
  • Besson Mireille R

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Musical expertise has been shown to positively influencehigh-level speech abilities such as novel word learning. Thisstudy addresses the question whether low-level enhancedperceptual skills causally drives successful novel word learning.We used a longitudinal approach with psychoacoustic proce-dures to train 2 groups of nonmusicians either on pitch discrim-ination or on intensity discrimination, using harmonic complexsounds. After short (approximately 3 hr) psychoacoustic training,discrimination thresholds werelower on the specific feature(pitch or intensity) that was trained. Moreover, compared tothe intensity group, participants trained on pitch were faster tocategorize words varying in pitch. Finally, although the N400components in both the word learning phase and in the seman-tic task were larger in the pitch group than in the intensitygroup, no between-group differences were found at the behav-ioral level in the semantic task. Thus, these results providemixed evidence that enhanced perception of relevant featuresthrough a few hours of acoustic training with harmonic soundscausally impacts the categorization of speech sounds as well asnovel word learning. These results are discussed within theframework of near and far transfer effects from music trainingto speech processing.

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