Individual differences in the discrimination of novel speech sounds: effects of sex, temporal processing, musical and cognitive abilities

Vera Kempe, John C. Thoresen, Neil W. Kirk, Felix Schaeffler, Patricia J. Brooks

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This study examined whether rapid temporal auditory processing, verbal working memory capacity, non-verbal intelligence, executive functioning, musical ability and prior foreign language experience predicted how well native English speakers (N = 120) discriminated Norwegian tonal and vowel contrasts as well as a non-speech analogue of the tonal contrast and a native vowel contrast presented over noise. Results confirmed a male advantage for temporal and tonal processing, and also revealed that temporal processing was associated with both non-verbal intelligence and speech processing. In contrast, effects of musical ability on non-native speech-sound processing and of inhibitory control on vowel discrimination were not mediated by temporal processing. These results suggest that individual differences in non-native speech-sound processing are to some extent determined by temporal auditory processing ability, in which males perform better, but are also determined by a host of other abilities that are deployed flexibly depending on the characteristics of the target sounds.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere48623
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


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