In fact, when 4-year-olds are presented with sounds and pictures at the same time and told to pay particular attention to the pictures, they can't the sounds dominate their attention.
"We found that sounds are dominant over visuals from infancy, and only slowly through childhood do visuals become more important," said Vladimir Sloutsky, professor in the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State University.
"The younger the children are, the more dominant their auditory system seems to be."
Earlier work by Sloutsky and his colleagues also showed this preference for sounds over visuals among children. But this new research offers a clearer picture of the nature of this auditory preference and how it changes over time.
For infants, sounds are preferred almost exclusively. Older children tested at 4 years of age generally preferred sounds over visuals, with the exception of familiar objects they paid more attention to a familiar visual when it is paired with an unknown sound.
Overall, the new research showed children seem to be able to process only one type of stimuli at a time usually sounds, but sometimes visuals. Adults, on the other hand, can process both sounds and visuals together, but prefer visual information.
Sloutsky, who is also associate dean of research for the university's College of Human Ecology, said children probably pay more attention to sounds because of their temporary nature.
"If you don't pay attention to sounds, they disappear," he said. "On the other hand, many visual stimuli are stable and stationary. This preference for sounds makes sense in the case of learning language. If infants and young children didn't favor sounds, it is difficult to explain how they could pick up language."
Contact: Vladimir Sloutsky
Ohio State University