Study: Babies Understand Words the Same Way Adults Do

That’s right! It may be time to ditch the baby talk because researchers from the University of California, San Diego have found that babies can actually understand what adults are saying, even if they are too young to speak just yet themselves.

The study, published recently in Cerebral Cortex, observed babies from 12 to 18 months of age as they were exposed to different words and sounds in order to see if they could tell the difference between an actual word and a sound that is similar to how that word sounds.

The next step involved pictures being shown accompanying the words to see if babies understood the meaning of the words. Sometimes the words wouldn’t match the picture, just to see if the babies could understand that it was incorrect. For example, a researcher may show a baby a picture of a ball and say “ball,” then show a picture of a dog and say “cat.” These tests were also given to adults in order to compare brain activity.

The results were impressive. By observing the amplitude of brain activity in the areas known to process word meaning during the tests, researchers found that the babies were capable of detecting a mismatched picture and word in same way as adults.

“Babies are using the same brain mechanisms as adults to access the meaning of words from what is thought to be a mental ‘database’ of meanings, a database which is continually being updated right into adulthood,” said Katherine Travis, a researcher involved in the study as well as co-author from the Department of Neurosciences and Multimodal Imaging Laboratory at UC San Diego.

 Eric Halgren, Ph.D., study leader and professor of radiology at the UC San Diego School of Medicine concludes, “our study shows that that the neural machinery used by adults to understand words is already functional when words are first being learned. This basic process seems to embody the process whereby words are understood, as well as the context for learning new words.”

 What do you think of these new findings? Do you ‘baby talk’ to your little one and, if so, will you now speak to your child in a more mature manner?

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