Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Jonathan Wright – Factors affecting the incidental formation of novel tone categories
October 15, 2021
9:00 am

Jonathan Wright – Factors affecting the incidental formation of novel tone categories



We constantly use our senses to categorize stimuli in our environment. We develop categories for stimuli when we are young and constantly add to existing categories and learn novel categories throughout our lives. Learning novel sound categories can be easy or very challenging depending on a number of factors, such as the learning methodology used and the learner’s previous auditory experience. Traditional novel sound category learning paradigms utilize explicit instruction regarding the target categories and immediate trial by trial feedback, with training sessions spanning days or weeks. However, novel sound category learning can also occur incidentally, with training and testing occurring in a single session. Thus far, incidental auditory category learning has been limited to synthesized sound categories. In the present research, I investigate the formation of four novel Thai tone categories using natural tokens and an incidental learning paradigm. Throughout the experiments I demonstrate that native English participants with no prior experience with the target tone categories, from 18 to 66 years old, can use an incidental learning paradigm with natural tokens to form four novel tone categories after 30 minutes of training with very high, even perfect, accuracy. These findings confirm results from previous studies that suggest that participants can effectively learn novel sound categories through incidental learning paradigms. Further, I use the incidental learning paradigm across four experiments to examine factors known to impact novel sound category acquisition. I demonstrate that 1) the temporal proximity of acoustic variability impacts learning, 2) talker variability during training impacts categorization and generalization ability, 3) segmental familiarity during incidental learning does not impact novel tone category formation, and 4) production of the tokens on each trial destroys perceptual learning.