Evaluating the Sources and Functions of Gradiency in Phoneme Categorization: An Individual Differences Approach

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During spoken language comprehension listeners transform continuous acoustic cues into categories (e.g., /b/ and /p/). While long-standing research suggests that phonetic categories are activated in a gradient way, there are also clear individual differences in that more gradient categorization has been linked to various communication impairments such as dyslexia and specific language impairments (Joanisse, Manis, Keating, & Seidenberg, 2000; López-Zamora, Luque, Álvarez, & Cobos, 2012; Serniclaes, Van Heghe, Mousty, Carré, & Sprenger-Charolles, 2004; Werker & Tees, 1987). Crucially, most studies have used 2-alternative forced choice (2AFC) tasks to measure the sharpness of between-category boundaries. Here we propose an alternative paradigm that allows us to measure categorization gradiency in a more direct way. Furthermore, we follow an individual differences approach to (a) link this measure of gradiency to multiple cue integration, (b) explore its relationship to a set of other cognitive processes, and (c) evaluate its role in individuals’ ability to perceive speech in noise. Our results provide validation for this new method of assessing phoneme categorization gradiency and offer preliminary insights into how different aspects of speech perception may be linked to each other and to more general cognitive processes.

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