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Nicholas A Smith and Laurel J Trainor (2008)

Infant-directed speech is modulated by infant feedback

Infancy, 13(4):410-420.

When mothers engage in infant-directed (ID) speech, their voices change in a number of characteristic ways, including adopting a higher overall pitch. Studies have examined these acoustical cues and have tested infants' preferences for ID speech. However, little is known about how these cues change with maternal sensitivity to infant feedback in the context of interaction. In this study, each mother watched her infant (located in an adjacent sound booth) on a video screen and talked to him or her through a microphone. The mother believed that her infant could hear her voice and she attempted to make her infant happy through her vocalizations. In reality, the infant could not hear her voice. The mother's ID speech was analyzed in real time for changes in mean pitch. For half of the infant–mother dyads an experimenter surreptitiously positively engaged the infant when the voice analysis revealed a rise in pitch, thereby producing positive reinforcement to the mother for natural higher pitched ID speech. The other half were reinforced for lower pitched ID speech. Mothers raised their pitch significantly more in the former than the latter condition, illustrating that the pitch of ID speech is dynamically affected by feedback from the infant.