The familiar-melody advantage in auditory perceptual development: Parallels between spoken language acquisition and general auditory perception

  • Sarah C. CreelEmail author
Perceptual/Cognitive Constraints on the Structure of Speech Communication: In Honor of Randy Diehl


How do learners build up auditory pattern knowledge? Findings from children’s spoken word learning suggest more robust auditory representations for highly familiar words than for newly learned words. This argues against spoken language learning as a process of simply acquiring a fixed set of speech sound categories, suggesting instead that specific words may be the relevant units. More generally, one might state this as the specific-learning hypothesis—that acquiring sound pattern knowledge involves learning specific patterns, rather than abstract pattern components. To understand the nature of human language knowledge, it is important to determine whether this specific learning reflects processes unique to spoken language learning or instead reflects more general auditory-learning processes. To investigate whether the specific-learning hypothesis extends to auditory pattern learning more generally, the present study tested the perceptual processing of familiar melodies versus carefully matched unfamiliar melodies. Children performed better at both audiovisual mapping (Exp. 1) and same–different auditory discrimination (Exp. 2) when hearing familiar melodies than when hearing unfamiliar melodies. This is consistent with the specific-learning hypothesis and with exemplar-style general-auditory accounts of pattern learning, although alternative explanations are possible.


Music cognition Sound recognition Speech perception Spoken word recognition 


Author note

Data and R code for analysis are available at the following DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/WH3FY.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cognitive ScienceUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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