Bimodal emotion congruency is critical to preverbal infants' abstract rule learning

Angeline Sin Mei Tsui, Yuen Ki Ma, Anna Ho, Hiu Mei Chow, Chia Huei Tseng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Extracting general rules from specific examples is important, as we must face the same challenge displayed in various formats. Previous studies have found that bimodal presentation of grammar-like rules (e.g. ABA) enhanced 5-month-olds' capacity to acquire a rule that infants failed to learn when the rule was presented with visual presentation of the shapes alone (circle-triangle-circle) or auditory presentation of the syllables (la-ba-la) alone. However, the mechanisms and constraints for this bimodal learning facilitation are still unknown. In this study, we used audio-visual relation congruency between bimodal stimulation to disentangle possible facilitation sources. We exposed 8- to 10-month-old infants to an AAB sequence consisting of visual faces with affective expressions and/or auditory voices conveying emotions. Our results showed that infants were able to distinguish the learned AAB rule from other novel rules under bimodal stimulation when the affects in audio and visual stimuli were congruently paired (Experiments 1A and 2A). Infants failed to acquire the same rule when audio-visual stimuli were incongruently matched (Experiment 2B) and when only the visual (Experiment 1B) or the audio (Experiment 1C) stimuli were presented. Our results highlight that bimodal facilitation in infant rule learning is not only dependent on better statistical probability and redundant sensory information, but also the relational congruency of audio-visual information. A video abstract of this article can be viewed at Pre-verbal infants can extract grammar-like abstract rules (e.g. A-A-B) from repeated sequence exposure. We discovered that simultaneous visual-auditory presentation enhanced this rule acquisition, but only when the visual- and auditory- stimuli were congruently paired. In this case, the emotional contents determined whether infants benefit from bimodal abstract rule learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-393
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016 May 1


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