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Nicholas Smith, Project 3

Directed by Nicholas Smith, Project 3 examines a mother’s speech adaptation and children’s speech perception as they interact with one another. The motivation for this work centers on the question of how young children develop the ability to perceive complex sound patterns, like speech, in a noisy world, and how parents might tailor their input to the child during interaction to support their learning and development. An important element of this approach is the focus on multisensory processes involved in parent-child speech. Experiments in this project examine not only the acoustics of speech, but also the audiovisual components – where children look on talking faces, and what kinds of visible speech-related movements mothers produce when talking to children.

The perceptual abilities of toddlers are tested through a variety of studies. Additionally, some studies examine speech production in mother-toddler pairs by using a variety of different analyses to track developmental changes in pitch, facial expressions and more.

The focus of this project is on the interaction between mothers and their preschool-age children with normal hearing as well as children with hearing loss. A large body of research has focused on infant-directed speech, but less known about speech to preschoolers. This age group is important to study because the preschool years are a critical developmental period linguistically as children transfer from a home to school environment. Additionally, children with hearing loss are more likely to depend on and benefit from any speech adaptations that mothers provide for them.

This project has three Specific Aims:

Aim 1: To evaluate how mothers adapt their speech when communicating to children under difficult listening conditions.

How does the speech adaptation of the mother vary in different conditions such as background noise level or hearing loss in their child?

Aim 2: To evaluate whether the mothers’ speech adaptations are effective in increasing their intelligibility to children.

Do the speech adaptations by the mother increase speech recognition in their children?

Aim 3: To evaluate how children adapt their visual strategies in an audiovisual speech perception task as a function of noise level and hearing loss.

​How do children help themselves adapt to different conditions including background noise and hearing loss?

This project hopes to identify the multisensory processes involved in mother-child communication, to assess the effects of background noise and hearing loss on these processes, and to evaluate the effectiveness of adaptive processes in mother-child communication.