University of Iowa study finds how parents respond to their infant’s babbling can speed the child’s language development.
What researchers discovered is infants whose mothers responded to what they thought their babies were saying, showed an increase in developmentally advanced, consonant-vowel vocalisations, which means the babbling has become sophisticated enough to sound more like words. The babies also began directing more of their babbling over time toward their mothers.
On the other hand, infants whose mothers did not try as much to understand them and instead directed their infants’ attention at times to something else did not show the same rate of growth in their language and communication skills.
Gros-Louis says the difference was mothers who engaged with their infants when they babbled let their children know they could communicate. Consequently, those babies turned more often to their mothers and babbled.
“The infants were using vocalisations in a communicative way, in a sense, because they learned they are communicative,” Gros-Louis says.
In a survey a month after the study ended, mothers who were most attentive to their infants’ babbling reported their children produced more words and gestures at age 15 months.
Gros-Louis was a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana when she, Andrew King, a senior scientist in psychology, and Meredith West, a psychology professor at Indiana, conducted the mother-infant study, titled “Maternal Responsiveness and the Development of Directed Vocalizing in Social Interactions.”
“Julie is showing that social stimulation shapes at a very early age what children attend to,” says King. “And if you can show the parent can shape what an infant attends to, there is the possibility to shape what the child is sensitive to. They are learning how to learn.“
The current study builds upon previous research by King and West, published in 2003 in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In that study, mothers were instructed to respond positively – such as smiling or touching—each time their infants looked at them and babbled. The results found the babies learned to vocalise advanced syllable-like sounds more readily than the typical infant.
Gros-Louis and her colleagues took that research a step further by observing the interactions of mothers and infants over a longer period of time and without instructing the mothers how to respond. Thus, they added a control group—the mothers who directed their babies’ attention elsewhere versus those who actively engaged when their infants looked at them and babbled.
Once again, the results showed infants whose mothers attended more closely to their babbling vocalised more complex sounds and develop language skills sooner.
Combined, the two studies could change how people think about human communicative development. However, additional research involving more participants is needed to validate the findings, the researchers said.
“The debate here is huge,” King says.
(Source: University of Iowa)