Re-examining selective adaptation: Fatiguing feature detectors, or distributional learning?

Dave F. Kleinschmidt, T. Florian Jaeger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


When a listener hears many good examples of a /b/ in a row, they are less likely to classify other sounds on, e.g., a /b/-to-/d/ continuum as /b/. This phenomenon is known as selective adaptation and is a well-studied property of speech perception. Traditionally, selective adaptation is seen as a mechanistic property of the speech perception system, and attributed to fatigue in acoustic-phonetic feature detectors. However, recent developments in our understanding of non-linguistic sensory adaptation and higher-level adaptive plasticity in speech perception and language comprehension suggest that it is time to re-visit the phenomenon of selective adaptation. We argue that selective adaptation is better thought of as a computational property of the speech perception system. Drawing on a common thread in recent work on both non-linguistic sensory adaptation and plasticity in language comprehension, we furthermore propose that selective adaptation can be seen as a consequence of distributional learning across multiple levels of representation. This proposal opens up new questions for research on selective adaptation itself, and also suggests that selective adaptation can be an important bridge between work on adaptation in low-level sensory systems and the complicated plasticity of the adult language comprehension system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)678-691
Number of pages14
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • Computational models
  • Perceptual learning
  • Speech perception
  • Statistical inference


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