Individual differences in top-down and bottom-up prominence perception

Author(s): Jason Bishop


The perception of prosody, like other aspects of speech perception, relies on a combination of bottom-up and top-down information. In the context of prominence perception, the present study explored the interaction of these two types of cues, and individual variation in their effects on listeners. In a “naïve prosody transcription” task, 120 listeners gave prominence ratings to verbs and objects in simple English SVO sentences. First, a known top-down cue to perceived prominence was manipulated: the information structure (focus) status of the verb. Second, a known bottom-up cue to perceived prominence was manipulated: the phonetic duration of the verb. Results showed that both the top-down and bottom-up cues influenced perceived prominence in the expected way, but did not interact. However, both types of cues were found to be modulated by systematic cross-listener variation in cognitive processing style, as estimated by two measures believed to be related to “pragmatic skill”.