When do babies develop a love of speech?

February 20, 2006
Feet of a newborn baby

Is the newborn preference for speech innate, developed in utero or acquired during the early days post-partum? McGill University psychologist Dr Athena Vouloumanos says she's broken the uterine sound barrier and filtered out speech from non-speech and established that newborns' preference for the sound of speech is at least partly innate.

"It's well established that neonates have a preference for speech above other sounds, but where does this come from? Is it something that's built in and there's something about the speech signal that they're tuned to listen to without the benefit of experience, or does it come from their prenatal experience in the womb? I think we've shown that there's an experience-independent component to newborns' preference for speech," says Dr Vouloumanos, an Assistant Professor in McGill's Department of Psychology in Montreal, Canada.

In the study, which involved 20 newborns at Women's and Children's Hospital in British Columbia, the babies responded by sucking their pacifiers about 15-per cent more in response to human speech stimulus compared with other, non-speech sounds.

"What we found is that their sucking behaviour increased to hear speech and it decreased when the sucking would elicit the non-speech sounds," said Vouloumanos.

Dr Vouloumanos and colleagues developed a painstaking two-part experimental procedure to separate out in-utero familiarity from innate predisposition. It included a series of complex speech analogues designed to be as close to speech as possible, without being actual words. This provided a test for the newborns' ability to distinguish speech from other sounds.

Vouloumanos presented her latest findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in St. Louis, February 17. The research has been accepted for publication in the journal Developmental Science.

Source: McGill University

Explore further: Babies' language learning starts from the womb

Related Stories

Babies' language learning starts from the womb

November 5, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- From their very first days, newborns' cries already bear the mark of the language their parents speak, reveals a new study published online on November 5th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. The ...

Bilingual babies: The roots of bilingualism in newborns

February 16, 2010

It may not be obvious, but hearing two languages regularly during pregnancy puts infants on the road to bilingualism by birth. According to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological ...

JFK's 1961 speech led space exploration to new heights

May 25, 2011

Fifty years ago, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy told a joint session of Congress that "this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning ...

Recommended for you

'Material universe' yields surprising new particle

November 25, 2015

An international team of researchers has predicted the existence of a new type of particle called the type-II Weyl fermion in metallic materials. When subjected to a magnetic field, the materials containing the particle act ...

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.