Perception and the Temporal Properties of Speech
Annual rept. Jul 1989-Jul 1991
HARVARD UNIV CAMBRIDGE MA DEPT OF PSYCHOLOGY
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Four experiments addressing the role of attention in phonetic perception are reported. The first experiment shows that the relative importance of two cues to the voicing distinction changes when subjects must perform an arithmetic distractor task at the same time as identifying a speech stimulus. The voice onset time cue loses phonetic significance when subjects are distracted, while the F0 onset frequency cue does not. The second experiment shows a similar pattern for two cues to the distinction between the vowels i as in beat and I as in bit. Together these experiments indicate that careful attention to speech perception is necessary for strong acoustic cues to achieve their full phonetic impact, while weaker acoustic cues achieve their full phonetic impact without close attention. Experiment 3 shows that this pattern is obtained when the distractor task places little demand on verbal short term memory. Experiment 4 provides a large data set for testing formal models of the role of attention in speech perception. Attention is shown to influence the signal to noise ratio in phonetic encoding. This principle is instantiated in a network model in which the role of attention is to reduce noise in the phonetic encoding of acoustic cues. Implications of this work for understanding speech perception and general theories of the role of attention in perception are discussed.