Is speech a special sound for humans? The acquisition of spoken language offers a unique opportunity to study both innate and acquired facets of the human mind. What is it about language (and humans) that makes its acquisition a uniquely human accomplishment? Do we have dedicated mechanisms and neural substrates for acquiring spoken language? My research addresses these broad questions by exploring the linguistic and cognitive abilities of adults and young infants, including newborns. Current projects examine topics such as what makes speech a special sound for humans, how infants and adults use their knowledge of language and the world around them to learn the meanings of novel words, and what infants understand about the function of speech. Through these types of studies, I hope to understand the biases that constrain human language acquisition, and the learning strategies that infants adopt to refine and elaborate nascent cognitive domains.

Please visit the NYU infant cognition and communication laboratory (NICCL) for more information.



PhD, University of British Columbia, 2004 (Neuroscience)
BSc, McGill University, 1997 (Honours Biology)


Associate Professor of Psychology, New York University, 2013-present
Assistant Professor of Psychology, New York University, 2007-2013
Assistant Professor of Psychology, McGill University, 2004-2007

Selected Publications

Curtin, S., & Vouloumanos, A. (2013). Speech preference predicts autistic-like behavior in 18-months-olds at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 2114-2020. [pdf]

Shultz, S., Vouloumanos, A., & Pelphrey, K. (2012). The superior temporal sulcus differentiates communicative and non-communicative auditory signals. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 1224-1232. [pdf]

Martin, A., Onishi, K. H., & Vouloumanos, A. (2012). Understanding the abstract role of speech in communication at 12 months. Cognition, 123, 50-60.  [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A., Onishi, K. H., & Pogue, A. (2012). Twelve-month-old infants recognize that speech can communicate unobservable intentions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 109, 12933-12937. [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A. (2011). Are U-shaped developmental trajectories illusory? Journal of Cognition and Development, 12, 154-158. [pdf]

Shultz, S., & Vouloumanos, A. (2010). Three-month-olds prefer speech to other naturally occurring signals. Language Learning and Development, 6, 241-257. [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A., Hauser, M. D., Werker, J. F., & Martin, A. (2010). The tuning of human neonates’ preference for speech. Child Development, 81, 517-527. [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A., Druhen, M. J., Hauser, M. D., & Huizink, A. T. (2009). Five-month-old infants’ identification of the sources of vocalizations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 106, 18867-18872. [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A. (2008). Fine-grained sensitivity to statistical information in adult word learning. Cognition, 107, 729-742. [pdf]

Weikum, W. M., Vouloumanos, A., Navarra, J., Soto-Faraco, S., Sebastian-Galles, N., & Werker, J. F. (2007). Visual language discrimination in infancy. Science, 316, 1159. [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A., & Werker, J. F. (2007). Listening to language at birth: Evidence for a bias for speech in neonates. Developmental Science, 10, 159-164. [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A., & Werker, J. F. (2004). Tuned to the signal: The privileged status of speech for young infants. Developmental Science, 7, 270-276. [pdf]

Marcus, G. F., Vouloumanos, A., & Sag, I. A. (2003). Does Broca's play by the rules? Nature Neuroscience, 6, 651-652. [pdf]

Vouloumanos, A., Kiehl, K. A., Werker, J. F., & Liddle, P. F. (2001). Detecting sounds in the auditory stream: Event-related fMRI evidence for differential activation to speech and non-speech. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 13, 994-1005. [pdf]

Werker, J. F., & Vouloumanos, A. (2000). Who's got rhythm? Science, 288, 280-281. [pdf]

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Athena Vouloumanos 
Department of Psychology 
New York University 
6 Washington Place , Room 308 
New York , NY 10003 
ph: (212) 998-7937 
fx: (212) 995-4866


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