Adult-like processing of time-compressed speech by newborns: A NIRS study

Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2017 Jun:25:176-184. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2016.10.006. Epub 2016 Oct 29.


Humans can adapt to a wide range of variations in the speech signal, maintaining an invariant representation of the linguistic information it contains. Among them, adaptation to rapid or time-compressed speech has been well studied in adults, but the developmental origin of this capacity remains unknown. Does this ability depend on experience with speech (if yes, as heard in utero or as heard postnatally), with sounds in general or is it experience-independent? Using near-infrared spectroscopy, we show that the newborn brain can discriminate between three different compression rates: normal, i.e. 100% of the original duration, moderately compressed, i.e. 60% of original duration and highly compressed, i.e. 30% of original duration. Even more interestingly, responses to normal and moderately compressed speech are similar, showing a canonical hemodynamic response in the left temporoparietal, right frontal and right temporal cortex, while responses to highly compressed speech are inverted, showing a decrease in oxyhemoglobin concentration. These results mirror those found in adults, who readily adapt to moderately compressed, but not to highly compressed speech, showing that adaptation to time-compressed speech requires little or no experience with speech, and happens at an auditory, and not at a more abstract linguistic level.

Keywords: Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS); Newborn infants; Prosody; Temporal envelope; Time-compressed speech.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared / methods*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*