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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01510

The origin of protoconversation: An examination of caregiver responses to cry and speech-like vocalizations

  • 1School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, University of Memphis, United States
  • 2Institute for Intelligent Systems, University of Memphis, United States
  • 3Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Memphis, United States
  • 4Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Austria

Turn-taking is a universal and fundamental feature of human vocal communication. Through protoconversation, caregivers play a key role for infants in helping them learn the turn-taking system. Infants produce both speech-like vocalizations (i.e., protophones) and cries from birth. Prior research has shown that caregivers take turns with infant protophones. However, no prior research has investigated the timing of caregiver responses to cries. Such research could be important in evaluating developing emotional bonds. The present work is the first to systematically investigate different temporal patterns of caregiver responses to protophones and to cries. Results showed that, even in infants’ first three months of life, caregivers were more likely to take turns with protophones and to overlap with cries. The present study provides evidence that caregivers are intuitively aware that protophones and cries are functionally different: protophones are treated as precursors to speech, whereas cries are treated as expressions of distress.

Keywords: turn-taking, mother-infant interaction, speech-like vocalizations, protophones, Cry, LENA, distress vocalizations, newborns

Received: 19 Mar 2018; Accepted: 31 Jul 2018.

Edited by:

Maria Spinelli, Università degli Studi G. d'Annunzio Chieti e Pescara, Italy

Reviewed by:

Iris Nomikou, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom
Chiara Suttora, Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, Italy  

Copyright: © 2018 Yoo, Bowman and Oller. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: PhD. D. Kimbrough Oller, University of Memphis, School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Memphis, United States, koller@memphis.edu