Hearing water temperature: Characterizing the development of nuanced perception of auditory events

AbstractWithout conscious thought, listeners link events in the world to sounds they hear. We study one surprising example: Adults can judge the temperature of water simply from hearing it being poured. How do these nuanced perceptual skills develop? Is extensive auditory experience required, or are these skills present in early childhood? In Exp.1, adults were exceptionally good at judging whether water was hot vs. cold from pouring sounds (M=93% accuracy; N=104). In Exp.2, we tested this ability in N=113 children aged 3-12 years, and found evidence of developmental change: Age significantly predicted accuracy (p<0.001, logistic regression), such that 3-5 year old children performed at chance while 85% of children age 6+ answered correctly. Overall our data suggest that perception of nuanced differences between auditory events is not part of early-developing cross-modal cognition, and instead develops over the first six years of life.

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