The Learning Signal in Perceptual Tuning of Speech: Bottom Up Versus Top‐Down Information

Cognitive Science 45 (3):e12947 (2021)
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Abstract

Cognitive systems face a tension between stability and plasticity. The maintenance of long‐term representations that reflect the global regularities of the environment is often at odds with pressure to flexibly adjust to short‐term input regularities that may deviate from the norm. This tension is abundantly clear in speech communication when talkers with accents or dialects produce input that deviates from a listener's language community norms. Prior research demonstrates that when bottom‐up acoustic information or top‐down word knowledge is available to disambiguate speech input, there is short‐term adaptive plasticity such that subsequent speech perception is shifted even in the absence of the disambiguating information. Although such effects are well‐documented, it is not yet known whether bottom‐up and top‐down resolution of ambiguity may operate through common processes, or how these information sources may interact in guiding the adaptive plasticity of speech perception. The present study investigates the joint contributions of bottom‐up information from the acoustic signal and top‐down information from lexical knowledge in the adaptive plasticity of speech categorization according to short‐term input regularities. The results implicate speech category activation, whether from top‐down or bottom‐up sources, in driving rapid adjustment of listeners' reliance on acoustic dimensions in speech categorization. Broadly, this pattern of perception is consistent with dynamic mapping of input to category representations that is flexibly tuned according to interactive processing accommodating both lexical knowledge and idiosyncrasies of the acoustic input.

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