The Emergence of Multisensory Selective Attention in Infancy and Its Role in the Development of Speech and Language

David J. Lewkowicz

Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders

Northeastern University

Boston, MA, USA


Most of our social interactions are specified by spatiotemporally correlated and crossmodally equivalent audible and visible speech cues. Together, such cues provide multisensory redundancy which is known to increase perceptual salience and, thereby, facilitate perception, learning, and memory. If so, and if infants can identify sources of multisensory redundancy in their everyday cluttered multisensory environment, then they are in a position to profit from the enhancing effects of multisensory redundancy. In this talk, I will first show that the ability to perceive various types of multisensory coherence cues – an ability that is critical to the identification of sources of multisensory redundancy - emerges and improves gradually during infancy. I will then review our recent findings showing that an endogenously driven multisensory selective attention (MSA) mechanism emerges during the second half of the first year of life and that it provides infants with a new perceptual tool that can help them find sources of multisensory redundancy. Finally, I will show that MSA undergoes developmental transformations during infancy and beyond and that it plays a key role in resolving perceptual ambiguity. Based on these findings and on the substantial evidence from infants and adults demonstrating that multisensory integration plays a fundamental role in perception and cognition, I will conclude that a multisensory approach is essential to understanding speech and language acquisition.