Creel, S. C. (2014). Tipping the scales: Auditory cue weighting changes over development. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 40(3), 1146–1160. doi:10.1037/a0036057
How does auditory processing change over development? This study assessed preschoolers’ and adults’ sensitivity to pitch contour, pitch height, and timbre in an association-memory paradigm, with both explicit (overt recognition) and implicit measures (visual fixations to melody-linked objects). In the first 2 experiments, child and adult participants associated each of 2 melodies with a cartoon picture, and recognition was tested. Experiment 1 pitted pitch contour cues against pitch height cues, and Experiment 2 pitted contour cues against timbre cues. Although adults were sensitive to multiple cues, children responded predominantly based on pitch height and timbre, with little sensitivity to pitch contour. In Experiment 3, however, children detected changes to all 3 cues well above chance levels. Results overall suggest that contour differences, although readily perceptible, are less memorable to children than to adults. Gradual perceptual learning over development may increase the memorability of pitch contour.