Internal Models and Vocal Imitation
Peter Pfordresher Principal Investigator
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The ability to imitate is crucial for human development, for transferring learned abilities from one generation to another, and perhaps even for understanding the intentions and actions of others. Interest in the processes of imitation has a long history but most of the research has focused on the imitation of visually observable actions. This research program focuses instead on vocal imitation, which emerges spontaneously in infants and plays an important communicative role in language acquisition, singing, and other expressive vocalizations. The studies combine behavioral and physiological measures of vocal imitation with a computational model in order to evaluate whether deficits in vocal imitation reflect a failure of auditory imagery or of the complex transformation from auditory perception to coordinated motor action.<br/><br/>A potential application of this research is the development of interventions for individuals who have difficulty with vocal imitation, including pedagogical techniques to train "tone deaf" singers. A second potential application is to the learning of tonal languages such as Chinese, for which pitch information is critical.