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Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
A new study has found that a mother who suffers from depression during pregnancy may expect to see some language delays in her baby. The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested babies at ages 6 months and 10 months, each time measuring the babies’ abilities to distinguish between similar sounds in different language, and engage with people who are speaking different languages when the speakers’ voices are muted.
In typically developing children, 6-month-olds can easily make distinctions between two languages, and 10-month-olds cannot, revealing a critical window for language development in young brains. The study, however, found that babies whose mothers were depressed but took no medication during pregnancy experienced a delay; they “passed the test” at 10 months, but failed it at 6 months. Babies whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy failed the test at both ages.
CNN.com has more:
“What’s going on here? Researchers aren’t sure, and they don’t know if it’s good or bad. One explanation for delay in the depressed-but-not-medicated group is that those kids weren’t being exposed to as much engaging speech because their mothers were depressed.
Alternatively, the brain chemicals from the mother associated with depression could have something to do with it. And the antidepressants could be impacting the child’s brain development in the group whose mothers took these medications.
Are there long-lasting consequences of delays, or advancements, in this critical period of language sensitivity? No one knows. More research needs to be done in order to determine the implications of the findings of this study.”
Image: Mom and baby, via Shutterstock
Friday, February 17th, 2012
Pregnant women with low levels of vitamin D in their second trimester may set their child up for language impairments, according to a new study in the online edition of Pediatrics.
Researchers found that women with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood when they were 18 weeks pregnant were almost twice as likely to have a child with language problems as women with the highest vitamin D levels.
The researchers looked at vitamin D levels in 743 pregnant women in Australia. After the women gave birth, researchers measured their child’s behavior at ages 2, 5, 8, 10, 14 and 17, and their language development at ages 5 and 10.
The study found that vitamin D levels during pregnancy weren’t linked to behavioral or emotional problems in the children. But researchers did find significant language difficulties among children whose mothers had low vitamin D.
The scientists say this doesn’t prove that low levels of the vitamin caused the difficulties, but it points to a “plausible association” that needs further study, Reuters reports.
Lead researcher Andrew Whitehouse of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research at the University of Western Australia says that vitamin D levels in pregnant women have dropped over the last 20 years, probably because they spend less time in the sun, HealthDay News reports. The body makes vitamin D in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight.
The researchers say vitamin D supplements could help. Vitamin D is also found in foods such as milk, fish, and eggs.
Image: Pregnant belly via Shutterstock.
Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
Newborns and infants do their first learning by gazing into the eyes of their parents and caregivers. But when it’s time for them to learn to speak, they begin to “read lips,” a new study published by Florida Atlantic University researchers has found.
The Associated Press reports on how developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz performed their study:
He and doctoral student Amy Hansen-Tift tested nearly 180 babies, groups of them at ages 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months.
How? They showed videos of a woman speaking in English or Spanish to babies of English speakers. A gadget mounted on a soft headband tracked where each baby was focusing his or her gaze and for how long.
They found a dramatic shift in attention: When the speaker used English, the 4-month-olds gazed mostly into her eyes. The 6-month-olds spent equal amounts of time looking at the eyes and the mouth. The 8- and 10-month-olds studied mostly the mouth.
At 12 months, attention started shifting back toward the speaker’s eyes.
It makes sense that at 6 months, babies begin observing lip movement, Lewkowicz says, because that’s about the time babies’ brains gain the ability to control their attention rather than automatically look toward noise.
But what happened when these babies accustomed to English heard Spanish? The 12-month-olds studied the mouth longer, just like younger babies. They needed the extra information to decipher the unfamiliar sounds.
That fits with research into bilingualism that shows babies’ brains fine-tune themselves to start distinguishing the sounds of their native language over other languages in the first year of life. That’s one reason it’s easier for babies to become bilingual than older children or adults.
Image: Happy baby girl, via Shutterstock
Wednesday, October 12th, 2011
Science is shedding light on how babies acquire language, and how babies raised in single-language households differ from bilingual babies. The New York Times reports:
…Researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.
The researchers suggested that this represents a process of “neural commitment,” in which the infant brain wires itself to understand one language and its sounds.
In contrast, the bilingual infants followed a different developmental trajectory. At 6 to 9 months, they did not detect differences in phonetic sounds in either language, but when they were older — 10 to 12 months — they were able to discriminate sounds in both.
“What the study demonstrates is that the variability in bilingual babies’ experience keeps them open,” said Dr. Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the study. “They do not show the perceptual narrowing as soon as monolingual babies do. It’s another piece of evidence that what you experience shapes the brain.”
Other research in this growing field shows that babies prefer languages that are rhythmically similar to the languages they “heard” while they were still in the womb. Bilingual babies were also found to have “executive brain function”–higher vocabularies, logical problem-solving skills, and skilled multitasking–than babies who were raised in single-language families, the Times reported.