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Success and failure in teaching the [r]-[l] contrast to Japanese adults: Tests of a Hebbian model of plasticity and stabilization in spoken language perception

Abstract

A Hebbian model of learning predicts that adults may be able to acquire a nonnative speech contrast if they are trained with stimuli that are exaggerated to make them perceptually distinct. To test these ideas, we asked Japanese adults to identify contrasting [r]-[l] stimuli (e.g., rock-lock) in two training conditions. In the adaptive condition, the [r]-[l] contrast was exaggerated at first and then adjusted to maintain accurate identification. In the fixed condition, a fixed pair of stimuli were used that were distinguishable by native English speakers but difficult for the Japanese learners to discriminate. To examine whether feedback contributes to learning, we ran separate groups with and without feedback in the fixed and the adaptive conditions. Without feedback, 3 days of adaptive training produced substantial improvements, but 3 days of fixed training produced no benefit relative to control, consistent with the Hebbian account. With feedback, both fixed and adaptive training led to robust improvements, and the benefit of training transferred to a second continuum (e.g., road-load). The results are consistent with Hebbian models that are augmented to be sensitive to feedback.

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Correspondence to James L. McClelland.

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The work reported in this article was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (LIS-9720348), the National Institute of Mental Health (MH47566), and the J. S. McDonnell Foundation (96-34).

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McCandliss, B.D., Fiez, J.A., Protopapas, A. et al. Success and failure in teaching the [r]-[l] contrast to Japanese adults: Tests of a Hebbian model of plasticity and stabilization in spoken language perception. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 2, 89–108 (2002). https://doi.org/10.3758/CABN.2.2.89

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Keywords

  • Speech Perception
  • Hebbian Learning
  • Japanese Adult
  • Adaptive Condition
  • Phonetic Category