Changing Structures in Midstream: Learning Along the Statistical Garden Path

Cognitive Science 33 (6):1087-1116 (2009)
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Abstract

Previous studies of auditory statistical learning have typically presented learners with sequential structural information that is uniformly distributed across the entire exposure corpus. Here we present learners with nonuniform distributions of structural information by altering the organization of trisyllabic nonsense words at midstream. When this structural change was unmarked by low‐level acoustic cues, or even when cued by a pitch change, only the first of the two structures was learned. However, both structures were learned when there was an explicit cue to the midstream change or when exposure to the second structure was tripled in duration. These results demonstrate that successful extraction of the structure in an auditory statistical learning task reduces the ability to learn subsequent structures, unless the presence of two structures is marked explicitly or the exposure to the second is quite lengthy. The mechanisms by which learners detect and use changes in distributional information to maintain sensitivity to multiple structures are discussed from both behavioral and computational perspectives.

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