Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies
PhD, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Infant Perception and Learning
My research program focuses on young infants' processing of speech stimuli and faces. Current research examines how young infants scan faces, whether they can discern differences in positive and negative facial emotions, and if infants can match emotions in faces and voices. We are also studying how babies scan faces that are speaking specifically to infants, i.e., infant-directed faces, and how vocalizations that correspond with these facial expressions influence infants' scanning of the faces. These studies are based on earlier findings that 6-month-old infants can distinguish infant-directed speech utterances produced in different interactional contexts (e.g., comforting vs. approving) and in the presence of various visual stimuli (Moore, Spence, & Katz, 1997). However, 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).
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). 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). Additionally, evidence for long-term auditory memory of 6-week-old infants was provided by the finding that infants who were repeatedly exposed to a nursery rhyme discriminated that rhyme from a novel nursery rhyme for up to 3 days (Spence, 1996). The results of this research reveal that prenatal experience influences infants' responsiveness to speech and voices, and suggest that early experiences provide a foundation for subsequent language acquisition.
Other earlier research includes studies of children's event memory and source monitoring (Thierry, Spence, & Memon, 2001; Thierry & Spence, 2002, 2004), the study of auditory processing skills of children and infants (Jerger, Pearson, & Spence, 1999; Spence, Rollins, & Jerger, 2002), and studies of young children's recognition and gender categorization of faces (Wild et al., 2000).
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.
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.