When do babies develop a love of speech?

Feb 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: Researchers explore shipwrecks near San Francisco

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists given rare glimpse of 350-kilo colossal squid

17 minutes ago

Scientists said Tuesday a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic.

Indonesia to ratify ASEAN haze agreement

1 hour ago

Indonesia's parliament on Tuesday voted to ratify a regional agreement on cross-border haze as fires ripped through forests in the west of the country, choking neighbouring Singapore with hazardous smog.

White House backs use of body cameras by police

3 hours ago

Requiring police officers to wear body cameras is one potential solution for bridging deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public, the White House said, weighing in on a national debate sparked by the shooting of ...

Recommended for you

'Hidden Treasure of Rome' project unveiled

12 minutes ago

For more than a century, hundreds of thousands of historical artifacts dating back to before the founding of Rome have been stored in crates in the Capitoline Museums of Rome, where they have remained mostly untouched. Now, ...

Poverty rate drops for the first time since 2006

53 minutes ago

The poverty rate in the United States has dropped for the first time since 2006, bringing a bit of encouraging news about the nation's economy as President Barack Obama and Congress gear up for the November elections.

User comments : 0