Our work focused on the study of auditory orienting attention cues (with tone cues and verbal cues) in dichotic listening situations across development. Four experiments were carried out with 8 to 12 years old children and with adults. If adults appeared to benefit from the use of tone cues as much as the use of verbal cues to improve their performance of identification in both ears, and thus to improve their cognitive control, however, only 9 years old children took advantage of verbal cues to orient more efficiently their attention and resolve cognitive conflicts. Below this age, only tones cues helped the children to orient and control their attention to the indicated ear.
Altogether our results reveal that (a) auditory orienting capacities develop in synergy with cerebral development (the maturation of the prefrontal cortex increases at around 9 years of age), and that (b) verbal cues lead to an efficient orientation of attention and high performance of identification in both ears, even under the age of 9.
We suggest that the facilitator role of verbal cues could result from the pre-activation of the top-down processes that they involve. Indeed, top-down processes are essential for cognitive control. Therefore, the presentation of this type of cues would enhance the activation of processes that are not so easily recruited by young children. The immaturity of the pre-frontal cortex of children below 9 years of age could explain the difficulties encountered by this age group.
dichotic listening, attention, children, tone cues, verbal cues, development.