Baby talk spurs language growth

Precise News

Summary: Early social interactions, characterized by “parentese,” smiles, and eye contact, significantly impact infant brain development and language growth.
This brain activity in regions associated with attention predicted improved language development up to 30 months of age.
“Parentese” and positive feedback mechanisms like smiles and touch are pivotal for early language acquisition and brain development.
New research from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) shows they’re important for infant language growth, too.
The researchers tracked infants’ language development using a well-documented and validated survey that asks parents about words and sentences their infants say at home.
“We knew from previous work that social interaction is essential at 9-months of age for foreign-language learning, but the current study shows that social interaction plays a role much earlier,” Kuhl said.
“Infants’ brain responses to social interaction predict future language growth” by Alexis Bosseler et al.
We develop a view of early language acquisition that underscores the centrality of the social ensemble, and we offer new insight into the neurobiological components that link infants’ language learning to their early brain functioning during social interaction.


In summary, a baby’s language development and brain development are greatly influenced by early social interactions, which are marked by “parentese,” smiles, and eye contact.

The study used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to determine whether 5-month-olds’ brain activity was higher in social situations involving adults than in nonsocial ones. Better language development was predicted by this brain activity in attention-related regions up to 30 months of age.

The results emphasize the value of early social engagement and show that these exchanges are critical for a child’s language and cognitive development in addition to strengthening the parent-child relationship.

Important Information:.

Improved language skills up to 2.5 years old are correlated with increased brain activity from social interactions at 5 months.

This study highlights the importance of attention and engagement in learning by drawing a comparison between social and nonsocial scenarios.

Early language acquisition and brain development heavily depend on “Parentese” and positive feedback mechanisms like smiles and touch.

The University of Washington is the source.

It is a universally endearing scene to see a parent interacting with their baby. When responding positively to the baby’s babbling and gestures, usually with smiles and eye contact, the parent uses a high-pitched voice, referred to as “parentese.”.

These connections are more than just a heartwarming sight. Additionally, they are critical for the development of infant language, according to new research from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS).

Magnetoencephalography, or MEG, is a safe and noninvasive brain imaging method that was used in a study published April 8 in Current Biology to track an infant’s brain activity during social and nonsocial interactions with the same adult.

The baby’s brain activity increased in areas related to attention when the adult conversed and played with the 5-month-old baby, according to their findings. The degree of this kind of activity also predicted improved language development in later life.

A “nonsocial” scenario, in which the adult turned away from the infant to speak with someone else, was contrasted with this “social” scenario. The same brain regions showed less activity during this interaction.

Lead author and research scientist at I-LABS Alexis Bosseler said, “This is the first study to directly compare infant brain responses to adult-infant social interaction versus nonsocial interaction, and then follow up with the children until they reached the age of 2.5 to see how the early brain activation relates to the child’s future language abilities.”.

With the help of the MEG brain-imaging technology, which allowed the baby to move and interact with the adult in a natural way, researchers were able to observe how the baby’s brain’s neurons fired when the adult spoke, played, and smiled at the baby.

The adult then turned to face someone else while they once again observed the infant’s brain activity.

These interactions between adults and babies happen naturally every day, and the study found that they have various, quantifiable effects on a baby’s brain.

It was discovered that heightened brain activity in reaction to social interaction at five months of age predicted improved language development at five subsequent ages: twenty-one, twenty-one, twenty-seven, and thirty months.

Utilizing a thoroughly examined and verified questionnaire that queries parents about the terms and phrases their young children use at home, the researchers monitored the linguistic advancement of newborns.

Co-author Andrew Meltzoff, a psychology professor at the University of Washington and co-director of I-LABS, said, “The connection between early brain reactions and later language is consistent with scientists’ fascination with the early age period and opens up many new questions that we, and others, will be exploring.”.

Because 5-month-old babies are just before the “sensitive period” for speech-language learning, which starts at about 6-months, the researchers selected 5-month-old babies for their study. It’s crucial for babies to watch adults during this time because learning is improved by attention.

Senior author and I-LABS co-director Patricia Kuhl explained that using parentese with infants reflects an innate desire to connect.

Language is understood implicitly to be about connection, according to Kuhl. It concerns a communication channel that connects you and the other person. The urge to establish that communicative connection occurs from an early age. “.

Parents and early educators should pay special attention to understanding the study’s findings, according to Kuhl.

“The current study shows that social interaction plays a role much earlier, but we knew from previous work that social interaction is essential at 9-months of age for foreign-language learning,” Kuhl stated.

The results of the study demonstrate that a baby’s brain is actually affected in a quantifiable way by the parents’ natural use of parentese, as well as by their smiles, touches, and affectionate back and forth reactions to their actions.

We hypothesise that during a crucial developmental stage, infants are drawn to and retained in this parent behavior, which we refer to as ‘the social ensemble,’ which inspires them to learn. “.

Steven Bierer, Elizabeth Huber, Julia Mizrahi, Eric Larson, Yaara Endevelt-Shapira, and Samu Taulu, all from I-LABS, were additional co-authors.

Funding: The Bezos Family Foundation, the Overdeck Foundation, and grants from the National Institutes of Health provided funding for this study.

About the news on language and neurodevelopment research.

Writer: Kirschman Lauren.

UW is the source.

Contact: University of Washington’s Lauren Kirschman.

Photo credit: This image is courtesy of Neuroscience News.

Original Study: A publicly accessible resource.

“Brain responses in infants during social interaction indicate language development in later life” by Alexis Bosseler et al. Modern Biology.


Future language development is predicted by an infant’s brain responses to social interaction.

Key points.

Adults use a social ensemble unique to their species to interact with human infants.

There were significant differences in infants’ neural responses to social and nonsocial interactions.

Attention-related brain regions become more active in response to social cues.

Over a 2-year period, individual differences in newborn brain activation predict language.

In conclusion.

Adult humans communicate with infants using a species-specific signal when they are face-to-face. Adults exhibit a unique “social ensemble”: they respond contingently to the actions and vocalizations of infants, speak in a manner directed toward them (parentese), and show positive reactions by grinning and maintaining eye contact.

According to studies, this social group is crucial for beginning language acquisition. We propose that language learning is advanced by the social ensemble because it draws attentional systems to speech and because sensorimotor systems get babies ready to respond vocally.

We measure the neural responses of five-month-old infants using infant magnetoencephalography (MEG) in two different scenarios: a social condition where the infant interacts verbally face-to-face (F2F) with an adult, and a nonsocial condition where the adult turns away from the infant to speak with someone else.

We investigated whether the way in which infants’ brains responded to these situations at five months of age could predict their language development at five subsequent time points by using a longitudinal design.

In the social versus nonsocial condition, there is a significant increase in theta activity in the brain regions related to attention (right hemisphere inferior frontal, right hemisphere superior temporal, and right hemisphere inferior parietal).

Crucially for the theory, we discovered that, more than two years after the original measurements, the neural activity of infants in response to face-to-face interaction in attentional and sensorimotor regions significantly predicted future language development into the third year of life.

We give new light on the neurobiological elements that connect infants’ language development to their early brain functioning during social interaction, and we develop a theory of early language acquisition that emphasizes the importance of the social ensemble.

scroll to top