Neural processing in the brains of parents talking to their babies may reveal secrets about the early stages of language acquisition in infants!
This is according to findings by researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute and their collaborators, which show for the first time that experience, gender and personality affect how parents process the speech they use when addressing infants.
Infant-directed speech, also known as 'baby talk' or "motherese", is a style of speech used by adults to address infants, characterized by high-pitched, articulated intonation and a simplified lexicon.
While common across languages and cultures, the neural mechanisms underlying baby talk/motherese are largely unknown, until now...
To elucidate these mechanisms, the researchers applied functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to the brains of 35 first-time parents with preverbal infants and 30 men and women without any parenting experience. Subjects also included 16 mothers with toddlers who spoke two-word utterances and 18 mothers with children in elementary school.
While initially aiming to measure brain activity during active speech, signal disruption caused by head movement prompted the researchers to focus on the listening ability of parents (the research subjects) instead, which mirrors similar activation patterns without requiring any motion.
Brain scans conducted on subjects listening to recorded baby talk/motherese revealed that mothers with preverbal infants exhibited increased brain activity in areas of the brain known to govern language.
This enhanced activation was not observed in any other group, including mothers of children who had advanced beyond the preverbal stage.
Another brain region signaled a second baby talk/motherese connection: increased cortical activation was observed in speech-related motor areas of mothers in the same group who scored high on a personality test for extroversion.
The results thus expose clear distinctions in how people process and generate baby talk/motherese, providing the first evidence at the neural level.
It is now evident that “baby talk/motherese”, by acting as a bridge for linguistic transfer from parent to infant, plays a key role in the early stages of language acquisition!
* Reproduced from the South East Asia Research network (ResearchSEA).
** This posting is based on the press release provided by RIKEN, Japan.
*** The original release was edited for language and style for this blog.