Infants' intermodal perception of two levels of temporal structure in natural events

Lorraine E. Bahrick, Florida International University


Infants' intermodal perception of two levels of temporal structure uniting the visual and acoustic stimulation from natural, complex events was investigated in four experiments. Films depicting a single object (single, large marble) and a compound object (group of smaller marbles) colliding against a surface in an erratic pattern were presented to infants between 3 and 7 1 2 months of age using an intermodal preference and search method. These stimulus events portrayed two levels of invariant temporal structure: (a) temporal synchrony united the sights and sounds of object impact, and (b) temporal microstructure, the internal temporal structure of each impact sound and motion, specified the composition of the object (single vs. compound). Experiment 1 demonstrated that by 6 months infants detected a relation between the audible and visible stimulation from these events when both levels of invariant temporal structure guided their intermodal exploration. Experiment 2 revealed that by 6 months infants detected the bimodal temporal microstructure specifying object composition. They looked predominantly to the film whose natural soundtrack was played even though the motions of objects in both films were synchronized with the soundtrack. Experiment 3 assessed infants' sensitivity to temporal synchrony relations. Two films depicting objects of the same composition were presented while the motions of only one of them was synchronized with the appropriate soundtrack. Both 4 1 2-and 6-month-olds showed evidence of detecting temporal synchrony relations under some conditions. Experiment 4 examined how temporal synchrony and temporal microstructure interact in directing intermodal exploration. The natural soundtrack to one of the objects was played out-of-synchrony with the motions of both. In contrast with the results of Experiment 2, infants at 6 months showed no evidence of detecting a relationship between the film and its appropriate soundtrack. This suggests that the temporal asynchrony disrupted their detection of the temporal microstructure specifying object composition. Results of these studies support on invariant-detection view of the development of intermodal perception. © 1987.