Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Intriguing new research suggests that your baby is listening closely to what you say—even before she’s born. Finnish scientists found that babies in utero not only hear sounds around them, but also can detect subtle differences in words, and recognize those differences after birth.
More on the study from NBC News:
Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland looked at 33 moms-to-be, and examined their babies after birth. While pregnant, 17 mothers listened at a loud volume to a CD with two, four minute sequences of made-up words (“tatata” or “tatota”, said several different ways and with different pitches) from week 29 until birth.
The moms and babies heard the nonsense words about 50 to 71 times. Following birth, the researchers tested the all 33 babies for normal hearing and then performed an EEG (electroencephalograph) brain scan to see if the newborns responded differently to the made-up words and different pitches.
Babies who listened to the CD in utero recognized the made-up words and noticed the pitch changes, which the infants who did not hear the CD did not, the researchers found. They could tell because their brain activity picked up when those words were played, while babies who didn’t hear the CD in the womb did not react as much.
“We have known that fetuses can learn certain sounds from their environment during pregnancy,” Eino Partanen, a doctoral student and lead author on the paper, said via email.
“We can now very easily assess the effects of fetal learning on a very detailed level—like in our study, [we] look at the learning effects to very small changes in the middle of a word.”
This paper does more than simply find that babies in utero can hear; it shows that babies can detect subtle changes and process complex information.
Image: Mother and ultrasound picture, via Shutterstock
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Friday, August 23rd, 2013
TODAY show anchor Jenna Wolfe and NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk have welcomed a daughter. Harper Estelle Wolfeld Gosk was born August 21, and weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces.
Wolfe announced her pregnancy, and her relationship with Gosk, in March. Here’s more on the new baby from PEOPLE.com:
“Estelle is my grandmother’s name,” explains the TODAY anchor. “No matter what, we were always going to have Estelle and we fell in love with the Harper. It’s the perfect combination of athleticism, gentleness, kindness, beauty and a little TV moxie, so we figured it was perfect.”
And in case you’re wondering why Harper’s last names don’t exactly match Moms’? Wolfe reveals that Wolfeld is actually her legal name.
“It’s out of the bag,” she jokes. The daughter of two television personalities “is not ready for a TV name quite yet, but if she ever wakes up and starts doing something TV-related, perhaps we can give her something.”
“This is the greatest gift,” Wolfe, 39, continues. “Anyone who’s a parent understands what I’m talking about.”
“We get paid in our jobs to come up with the right words,” NBC News foreign correspondent Gosk, 41, explains. “All I keep saying is ‘Wow.’ I can’t find the words.”
Image: Jenna Wolfe and Stephanie Gosk, via NBC News
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Friday, August 9th, 2013
A children’s advocacy group called the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that companies that produce videos and mobile apps aimed at babies and toddlers are fraudulently promoting the products as “educational.” More from The New York Times:
As mobile devices supplant television as entertainment vehicles for younger children, media and software companies increasingly see opportunities in the baby learning app market. But the complaint to the F.T.C. by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the same nonprofit group that helped prompt “Baby Einstein” to backtrack from its educational claims, challenges the idea that such apps provide more than simple entertainment value.
In addition to the complaint against Fisher-Price “Laugh & Learn” apps, which have been downloaded more than 2.8 million times, the advocacy group filed a similar complaint on Wednesday against apps for babies marketed by Open Solutions, a software developer.
According to the complaints, the companies say in marketing material that their apps teach infants spatial skills, numbers, language or motor skills. But, the complaints claim, there is no rigorous scientific evidence to prove that these kinds of products provide those benefits.
“The baby genius industry is notorious for marketing products as educational, when in fact there is no evidence that they are,” said Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is based in Boston. “Parents deserve honest information about the educational value of the activities they choose for their children and they are not getting it from these companies.”
The group’s complaints also contend that using such apps “may be detrimental to very young children.” Ms. Linn said the programs could take time away from activities, like hands-on creative play or face-time with caring adults, that have proved beneficial for infant learning. She noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid screen media for children under 2.
Image: Toddler using mobile device, via Shutterstock
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Monday, July 15th, 2013
At a mere five months of age, babies appear to be able to understand each other’s emotions, and identifying which sounds match with which feelings (for example, a happy baby laughs, an upset baby cries). More from Today.com:
The takeaway for parents is that babies are very much aware of emotion, said Ross Flom, as associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University and the co-author of the new study — the first to study “peer matching” ability with children this young. The research was published in the journal “Infancy.”
“It highlights the fact that babies are really sensitive to our communicative intent,” Flom told TODAY Moms.
“They can really understand how we’re saying something, so if you’re talking to a young infant, they might not understand exactly what you’re saying but they would certainly understand how it’s being conveyed.”
Researchers weren’t too terribly surprised at the results. Studies have shown babies can match emotions in adults at 7 months of age and younger. But there has been little research so far looking into infants’ perception of the emotional expressions of other infants.
Forty babies took part in the study: half were 3.5 months old, and the other 5 months old.
Image: Babies looking at each other, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
Babies who have not yet had their first birthdays may be able to express sympathy, or the feeling of concern for the well-being of others. This is the finding of a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, which found that babies preferred the victim to the aggressor in a bullying-type encounter they watched on a video screen. More from LiveScience:
Because 10-month-olds can’t yet express sympathy verbally, Kyoto University researcher Shoji Itakura and colleagues turned to a common tactic in baby-brain research: using simple animations to determine what infants prefer. They showed 40 babies an animation of a blue ball and a yellow cube.
Half of the infants watched a short clip in which the blue ball chased the yellow cube around the screen, hitting it seven times before finally squishing it against a wall. The other half of the group saw the same movements, including the squishing, but the two shapes moved independently without interacting.
In some cases, the “bully” and “victim” roles were swapped, so that the yellow cube was the bad guy. After watching the show, the babies were shown a real yellow cube and a real blue ball, and given the chance to reach for one of the objects.
In cases where the babies had seen one shape beating up on the other, they overwhelmingly reached for the victim, 16 out of 20 times. In comparison, when the shapes hadn’t interacted, the babies’ choices were basically random — nine went for the shape that had gotten squished, and the other 11 went for the nonsquished shape.
The results could have simply indicated that babies preferred to steer clear of a nasty character, not that they felt sympathy for the bullied one. To rule out that possibility, the researchers conducted a second experiment with 24 babies, also 10 months old. These babies saw a show nearly identical to the first, except there was a third character: a red cylinder. The red cylinder was a neutral presence on-screen, neither bullying nor being bullied.
After watching the animation, the babies were again given a choice of two toys. Half could pick between the “victim” shape and the neutral shape, while the other half got to choose between the bullying shape and the neutral shape.
This time, 10 out of 12 babies given the neutral-or-bully option went with the neutral cylinder. Meanwhile, of the 12 given the neutral-or-victim option, 10 picked the victim.
In other words, even when there was no mean character present that a baby might want to avoid, the babies still picked the victim.
Though researchers caution this study should not be taken as solid proof of sympathy in babies, it does follow other recent research, including a study published in January that found that babies could demonstrate signs of empathy, or being able to guess what another person is feeling.
Image: Baby, via Shutterstock
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