Electrophysiological Evidence for the Understanding of Maternal Speech by 9-Month-Old Infants

Eugenio Parise, Gergely Csibra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

67 Citations (Scopus)


Early word learning in infants relies on statistical, prosodic, and social cues that support speech segmentation and the attachment of meaning to words. It is debated whether such early word knowledge represents mere associations between sound patterns and visual object features, or reflects referential understanding of words. By measuring an event-related brain potential component known as the N400, we demonstrated that 9-month-old infants can detect the mismatch between an object appearing from behind an occluder and a preceding label with which their mother introduces it. Differential N400 amplitudes have been shown to reflect semantic priming in adults, and its absence in infants has been interpreted as a sign of associative word learning. By setting up a live communicative situation for referring to objects, we demonstrated that a similar priming effect also occurs in young infants. This finding may indicate that word meaning is referential from the outset of word learning and that referential expectation drives, rather than results from, vocabulary acquisition in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)728-733
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • ERP
  • N400
  • infant development
  • infants
  • language acquisition
  • language development
  • priming
  • semantic priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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