Children Use Object-Level Category Knowledge to Detect Changes in Complex Auditory Scenes

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Children interact with and learn about all types of sound sources, including dogs, bells, trains, and human beings. Although it is clear that knowledge of semantic categories for everyday sights and sounds develops during childhood, there are very few studies examining how children use this knowledge to make sense of auditory scenes. We used a change deafness paradigm and an object-encoding task to investigate how children (6, 8, and 10 years of age) and adults process auditory scenes composed of everyday sounds (e.g., human voices, animal calls, environmental sounds, and musical instruments). Results indicated that although change deafness was present and robust at all ages, listeners improved at detecting changes with age. All listeners were less sensitive to changes within the same semantic category than to small acoustic changes, suggesting that, regardless of age, listeners relied heavily on semantic category knowledge to detect changes. Furthermore, all listeners showed less change deafness when they correctly encoded change-relevant objects (i.e., when they remembered hearing the changing object during the task). Finally, we found that all listeners were better at encoding human voices and were more sensitive to detecting changes involving the human voice. Despite poorer overall performance compared with adults, children detect changes in complex auditory scenes much like adults, using high-level knowledge about auditory objects to guide processing, with special attention to the human voice.

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