Award Date

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Erin E. Hannon

Second Committee Member

Joel S. Snyder

Third Committee Member

Jennifer Rennels

Fourth Committee Member

Gwen Marchand

Number of Pages



Although categorization has been studied in depth throughout development in the visual domain (e.g., Gelman & Meyer, 2011; Sloutsky 2010), there is little evidence examining how children and adults categorize everyday auditory objects (e.g., dog barks, trains, song, speech) or how category knowledge affects the way children and adults listen to these sounds during development. In two separate studies, I examined how listeners of all ages differentiated the multidimensional acoustic categories of speech and song and I determined whether listeners used category knowledge to process the sounds they encounter every day. In Experiment 1, listeners of all ages were able to categorize speech and song and categorization ability increased with age. Four- and 6-year-olds were more susceptible to the musical acoustic characteristics of ambiguous speech excerpts than 8-year-olds and adults, but all ages relied on F0 stability and average syllable duration to differentiate speech and song. Finally, 4-year-olds that were better at categorizing speech and song also had higher vocabulary scores, providing some of the first evidence that the ability to categorize speech and song may have cascading benefits for language development. Experiment 2 demonstrated the first evidence that listeners of all ages have change deafness. However, change deafness did not differ with age, even though overall sensitivity for detecting changes increased with age. Children and adults had more error for within-category changes compared to small acoustic changes, suggesting that all ages relied heavily on semantic category knowledge when detecting changes in complex scenes. These studies highlight the different roles that acoustic and semantic factors play when listeners are categorizing sounds compared to when they are using their knowledge to process sounds in complex scenes.


auditory categorization; change deafness; change detection; language; music


Developmental Psychology | Psychology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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