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Catherine Best


Western Sydney University

Research Themes: 

The Communicating Mind and Body

Best's research and theoretical work has focused primarily on how adults' and infants' experience with their native language shapes their perception and production of the phonological elements of spoken words, including consonants, vowels, lexical tones and prosodic patterns.

She has applied this theme broadly, investigating perception and production of spoken language in second language learners and bilinguals, in children with language difficulties, and expanding her research to include sign language, facial expressions, and culture-specific characteristics of music. Her most significant theoretical contribution is her model the effects of language experience on perception: the Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM: e.g., Best, 1984, 1994a, 1994b, 1995). Best's work has offered important insights into why many non-native phonetic contrasts are difficult for adults and older infants to discriminate, while others remain much easier. Throughout her work, Best has taken an ecological, or direct realist, philosophical perspective, founded on James Gibson's ecological theory of perception.

During her Wesleyan years, she was awarded a highly competitive NIH Research Career Development Award, providing her with several years of advanced linguistics training, which deepened her interest in articulatory information as a viable ecological basis for speech perception. That interest has been fundamental to the development of the PAM model, and provides the core motivation for her more recent line of research on the effects of regional accent differences in spoken word recognition by infants, toddlers and adults.