Journal of Child Language


The effects of intonation on infant attention: the role of the rising intonation contour*

Joseph W. Sullivana1 and Frances Degen Horowitza2

a1 University of Colorado School of Medicine

a2 University of Kansas


The study was designed to investigate 2-month-old infant preferential attention to a feature found to be characteristic of mothers' speech to their infants. A modified infant-control auditory preference paradigm was employed to assess infants' differential attention to synthetically generated and naturally produced rising and falling intonation contours. Analysis of these data revealed that the infants attended more to the rising naturally produced intonation contour. A reverse pattern of greater attention to the falling contour was found with the synthetically generated stimuli. In addition, inspection of the results permitted the conclusion that the infant-control preference paradigm was a viable method for assessing the 2-month-old infant's preferential attention to auditory stimuli. The results are discussed in terms of their relevance to the study of the infant's developing language reception abilities.

(Received April 30 1982)


[*] Thanks are extended to the members of the Kansas University Infant Laboratory – Joseph Byrne, Julie Dillon, Ed Gaddis, Candy Ganz, Charles Nelson, Cindy Ryan, Christopher Smith, Vicki Czernicki and Susan Weinand – for serving as observers. The authors also wish to thank Cynthia L. Miller, Philip A. Morse and Cliff Gillman at the Waisman Center for their help and advice in selecting, recording and analyzing the auditory stimuli. This investigation is based on the first author's doctoral dissertation submitted to the Department of Human Development, University of Kansas. Part of this research was presented at the International Conference on Infant Studies, New Haven, Connecticut, in April 1980. The research was supported by Grant 300-77-0308 from the United States Office of Education (Bureau for the Education of the Handicapped). Address for correspondence (first author): Department of Psychiatry and the John F. Kennedy Child Development Center, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Box C-234, Denver, Colorado 80262, USA.