Segmentation of the speech stream in a non-human primate: statistical learning in cotton-top tamarins

Cognition. 2001 Mar;78(3):B53-64. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(00)00132-3.


Previous work has shown that human adults, children, and infants can rapidly compute sequential statistics from a stream of speech and then use these statistics to determine which syllable sequences form potential words. In the present paper we ask whether this ability reflects a mechanism unique to humans, or might be used by other species as well, to acquire serially organized patterns. In a series of four experimental conditions, we exposed a New World monkey, the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus), to the same speech streams used by Saffran, Aslin, and Newport (Science 274 (1996) 1926) with human infants, and then tested their learning using similar methods to those used with infants. Like humans, tamarins showed clear evidence of discriminating between sequences of syllables that differed only in the frequency or probability with which they occurred in the input streams. These results suggest that both humans and non-human primates possess mechanisms capable of computing these particular aspects of serial order. Future work must now show where humans' (adults and infants) and non-human primates' abilities in these tasks diverge.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Attention
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Problem Solving*
  • Saguinus / psychology*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Species Specificity
  • Speech Perception*
  • Verbal Learning