Universal prosodic cues facilitate learning in both animals and humans

Universal prosodic cues facilitate learning in both animals and humans
Figure showing prosodic contours used in the experimental part of the study. Credit: Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Barcelona

Prosody is a branch of linguistics that analyses and formally represents the elements of oral expression such as pitch, tones and intonation. A study published in Cognition on 5 February shows that there are universal prosodic cues that help with learning in humans and in animals.

This study, published by Juan Manuel Toro, ICREA research professor and Paola Crespo-Bojorque, researchers of the Center for Brain and Cognition (CBC) of the UPF Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC), is part of the research into that is being conducted thanks to a European Research Council Starting Grant.

Some of the mechanisms we humans use to learn language are based on general principles we inherited from other species.

The prosodic contour is universal

When we speak, we pronounce words more intensely at first and lengthen them slightly more at the end of the sentence. This is known as the prosodic contour. This contour is universal, in the sense that it not only defines the way in which speech occurs in humans, but also in birdsong and probably any other animal vocalization. "This occurs because the prosodic contour appears as a result of how humans and produce sounds by expelling air through the larynx," Toro and Crespo Bojorque explain.

And they add: "In our study, we showed that this prosodic contour facilitates the learning of words not only in humans but also in other animals (in our experiment, rats)."

Through various experiments, the researchers found that animals learned to recognize nonsense words when they had a natural prosodic contour. Conversely, they could not learn them when they had a flat or random contour.

Thus, the authors conclude that there are universal cues that facilitate learning, and both humans and other non-human animals benefit from them. In general terms, "this suggests that some of the mechanisms humans use to learn language are based on general principles we inherited from other species," the study researchers conclude.


Explore further

Zebra finches are sensitive to emotional cues in human speech

More information: Juan M. Toro et al, Arc-shaped pitch contours facilitate item recognition in non-human animals, Cognition (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104614
Journal information: Cognition

Provided by Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Barcelona
Citation: Universal prosodic cues facilitate learning in both animals and humans (2021, March 9) retrieved 22 September 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-03-universal-prosodic-cues-animals-humans.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
4 shares

Feedback to editors