Babies may be able to link certain words and concepts, research suggests

Study indicates babies as young as six months old may realise certain words are pertained and that interaction with adults boosts understanding

Babies as young as six months old may have an inkling that certain words and concepts are related to each other, say scientists in research that sheds new light on how infants learn.

The study also found that newborns who were more often exposed to adults talking to them about items in their proximity did better at identifying a picture of an object when the item was said out loud.

” What this is saying is that it is always a good notion to talk to your child and to show interest in whatever they are interested in, and it looks like the more you do that, the better- set very simply ,” said Dr Elika Bergelson of Duke University in North Carolina, who co-authored the paper.

In the first part of the study, 51 healthy six-month old newborns took part in an eye-tracking experiment in the laboratory. Sitting on the lap of a parent, who was unable to see the computer screen, each infant’s gaze was recorded as they were presented two images on a grey background, for example “car” and “juice”.

The parent, prompted through a decide of headphones, uttered a sentence containing one of the items. The squad then tracked how long the newborns looked at the item that the mother had mentioned.

The trial was carried out 32 periods, with half of the instances showing pairs of items related to each other, such as juice and milk, and half the time presenting unrelated items such as auto and juice.

The results, published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that the newborns appeared more at the image of the item that was mentioned by the mother when the other item on the screen was unrelated to it.

” The logic is, if newborns look more at an image after it gets named than they did before they heard anything, they know[ something about] what the word entails ,” said Bergelson.

“[ The findings indicate] babies know something about how words and concepts are’ related’ or’ go together ‘: if they had no notion that milk and juice had anything to do with one another, they would have performed similarly with the two types of displays ,” she added.

In the second part of the study, the team investigated whether the babies’ overall success at looking at the correct word was linked to their home surrounding, by recording the interactions between the newborns and those around them using video and, more extensively, audio recordings. These were then analysed by researchers for mentions of any objects or things, such as a spoonful or starrings, and it was noted whether the items were likely present in front of the newborn at the time.

The results from 41 newborns, of whom 40 had both audio and video data, reveal that the more babies were spoken to about objects that were present, the very best they did overall at looking at the correct term in the lab experiments.

” Even though they are six months olds- they are not doing much yet-[ they should be treated] as real communicative partners ,” said Bergelson.

Marilyn Vihman, prof of linguistics at the University of York who was not involved in the study, described the research as excellent and greeted the move to conduct research in the home environment. But she stressed that the study did not mean that six-month old babies “know” that words are linked.

” All the food words come in the same meal-time situation, all the clothing words and body-part terms come in the same nappy-changing and clothes-changing situation. All those words are going to be related to each other in the child’s experience and they haven’t sorted them out yet ,” she said.

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