Infants' perceptual differentiation of amodal and modality-specific audio-visual relations

Lorraine E. Bahrick, Florida International University


Ninety-six infants of 3 1 2 months were tested in an infant-control habituation procedure to determine whether they could detect three types of audio-visual relations in the same events. The events portrayed two amodal invariant relations, temporal synchrony and temporal microstructure specifying the composition of the objects, and one modality-specific relation, that between the pitch of the sound and the color/shape of the objects. Subjects were habituated to two events accompanied by their natural, synchronous, and appropriate sounds and then received test trials in which the relation between the visual and the acoustic information was changed. Consistent with Gibson's increasing specificity hypothesis, it was expected that infants would differentiate amodal invariant relations prior to detecting arbitrary, modality-specific relations. Results were consistent with this prediction, demonstrating significant visual recovery to a change in temporal synchrony and temporal microstructure, but not to a change in the pitch-color/shape relations. Two subsequent discrimination studies demonstrated that infants' failure to detect the changes in pitch-color/shape relations could not be attributed to an inability to discriminate the pitch or the color/shape changes used in Experiment 1. Infants showed robust discrimination of the contrasts used. © 1992.