Perceptual anchoring in preschool children: Not adultlike, but there

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Background: Recent studies suggest that human auditory perception follows a prolonged developmental trajectory, sometimes continuing well into adolescence. Whereas both sensory and cognitive accounts have been proposed, the development of the ability to base current perceptual decisions on prior information, an ability that strongly benefits adult perception, has not been directly explored. Here we ask whether the auditory frequency discrimination of preschool children also improves when given the opportunity to use previously presented standard stimuli as perceptual anchors, and whether the magnitude of this anchoring effect undergoes developmental changes. Methodology/Principal Findings: Frequency discrimination was tested using two adaptive same/different protocols. In one protocol (with-reference), a repeated 1-kHz standard tone was presented repeatedly across trials. In the other (no-reference), no such repetitions occurred. Verbal memory and early reading skills were also evaluated to determine if the pattern of correlations between frequency discrimination, memory and literacy is similar to that previously reported in older children and adults. Preschool children were significantly more sensitive in the with-reference than in the no-reference condition, but the magnitude of this anchoring effect was smaller than that observed in adults. The pattern of correlations among discrimination thresholds, memory and literacy replicated previous reports in older children. Conclusions/Significance: The processes allowing the use of context to form perceptual anchors are already functional among preschool children, albeit to a lesser extent than in adults. Nevertheless, immature anchoring cannot fully account for the poorer frequency discrimination abilities of young children. That anchoring is present among the majority of typically developing preschool children suggests that the anchoring deficits observed among individuals with dyslexia represent a true deficit rather than a developmental delay.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere19769
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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