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School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences - The University of Texas at Dallas

Melanie Spence


Melanie Spence


Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies

PhD, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Infant Perception and Learning


GR 4.532

972-883-2206 phone email


Infant Learning Project website
















About Melanie Spence


My recent research program has examined infants' processing of speech and visual stimuli during the first 6 postnatal months. Studies examining young infants' long-term memory for a running speech passage have shown that 6-week-old infants remember a repeatedly experienced nursery rhyme and discriminate it from a novel nursery rhyme for at least 3 days (Spence, 1996). The ability to encode and retain linguistic information is an important prerequisite for the acquisition of a lexicon. Another series of studies conducted in collaboration with David Moore, PhD (Pitzer College) has examined infants' ability to perceive and discriminate the prosodic properties of speech that signify different communicative intentions of a speaker. This work has shown that infants categorize infant-directed speech utterances produced in different interactional contexts (e.g., comforting vs. approving) at 6 months of age (Moore, Spence, & Katz, 1997). Four-month-olds categorize these infant-directed utterances when heard in the presence of a face (Spence, Chuang, & Sokolsky, 2004), but not when viewing a checkerboard pattern (Spence & Moore, 2002; Spence & Moore, 2003). Current studies are exploring factors that influence categorization of infant-directed speech by 4-month-old infants as well as young infants' categorization of facial emotions when shown moving facial expressions.


A second related area of my research has examined the effects of infants' linguistic experiences on their processing of speech and voices during the perinatal period. This work has provided evidence that maternal speech is perceived by fetuses during the last month of gestation (DeCasper & Spence, 1986) and that human newborns' perception of a specific voice is affected by their previous experience with that voice (Spence & DeCasper, 1987). More recently, my research in this area has demonstrated that newborns' recognition of the maternal voice is dependent on the low-frequency acoustic properties of voices that are available in the prenatal environment, but that high-frequency vocal information that is experienced only postnatally does not support infants' recognition of the maternal voice (Spence & Freeman, 1996). The results of this perinatal research reveal that prenatal experience influences infants' responsiveness to speech and voices, and suggest that these early experiences may provide a foundation for subsequent language acquisition.


Recent research activities also include studies of perceptual and memory development of preschool children. A series of studies examining 3- to 6-year-old children's event memory and the relationship between source monitoring, memory, and suggestibility have been conducted with Karen Thierry, Ph.D. (Rutgers University). These studies have shown that young children's susceptibility to misleading information can be decreased with source monitoring training tasks (Thierry, Spence, & Memon, 2001; Thierry & Spence, 2002). Additionally, collaboration with Susan Jerger, PhD (UTD) has examined auditory processing skills of adults and children ranging from 3 to 16 years of age (Jerger, Pearson, & Spence, 1999; Spence, Rollins, & Jerger, 2002). Research with Drs. Alice O'Toole (UTD) and Susan Barrett (LeHigh University) has examined young children's recognition and gender categorization of faces (Wild et al., 2000).


Research Interests


Current research examines young infants' processing of voices and speech. One specific focus is the study of infants' categorization of infant-directed (ID) utterances that communicate different affective messages (e.g., approving vs. comforting). Other research interests include young children's memory for voices, speech, and faces.


Recent Publications


Shepard, K.G., Spence, M.J., & Sasson., N.J. (2012). Distinct facial characteristics differentiate communicative intent of infant-directed speech. Infant and Child Development, 21, 555-578. Published online at Wiley Online Library: 2 MAY 2012 | DOI:10.1002/icd.1757


Thierry, K. L., Lamb, M. E., Pipe, M. -E., & Spence, M. J. (2009). The flexibility of source monitoring training: Reducing young children's source confusions. Applied Cognitive Psychology. Published online at Wiley Online Library. DOI:10.1002/acp.1574


Spence, M. J. & Moore, D. (2003). Categorization of infant-directed speech: Development from 4 to 6 months. Developmental Psychobiology, 42, 97-109.


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