Increasing task difficulty enhances effects of intersensory redundancy: testing a new prediction of the Intersensory Redundancy Hypothesis

Lorraine E Bahrick, Robert Lickliter, Irina Castellanos, Mariana Vaillant-Molina
Developmental Science 2010 September 1, 13 (5): 731-7
Prior research has demonstrated intersensory facilitation for perception of amodal properties of events such as tempo and rhythm in early development, supporting predictions of the Intersensory Redundancy Hypothesis (IRH). Specifically, infants discriminate amodal properties in bimodal, redundant stimulation but not in unimodal, nonredundant stimulation in early development, whereas later in development infants can detect amodal properties in both redundant and nonredundant stimulation. The present study tested a new prediction of the IRH: that effects of intersensory redundancy on attention and perceptual processing are most apparent in tasks of high difficulty relative to the skills of the perceiver. We assessed whether by increasing task difficulty, older infants would revert to patterns of intersensory facilitation shown by younger infants. Results confirmed our prediction and demonstrated that in difficult tempo discrimination tasks, 5-month-olds perform like 3-month-olds, showing intersensory facilitation for tempo discrimination. In contrast, in tasks of low and moderate difficulty, 5-month-olds discriminate tempo changes in both redundant audiovisual and nonredundant unimodal visual stimulation. These findings indicate that intersensory facilitation is most apparent for tasks of relatively high difficulty and may therefore persist across the lifespan.


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