Infants’ brain responses to speech suggest Analysis by Synthesis

Date: 20th October 2014

Posted on: 20-10-2014

 This week we picked up the news item which looked at the recently published University of Washington research paper that suggested for 7- and 11-month-old infants that speech sounds stimulate areas of the brain that coordinate and plan motor movements for speech. The study by Patricia Kuhl and colleagues looks at how “Most babies babble by 7 months, but don’t utter their first words until after their first birthdays,” said lead author Patricia Kuhl “Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds’ brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words.” Kuhl believes this practice at motor planning contributes to the transition when infants become more sensitive to their native language.

The results emphasise the importance of talking to kids during social interactions even if they aren’t talking back yet.

The study involved the infants sitting in a brain scanning which measured brain activity through a non-invasive method called magentoencephaography (MEG). 57 infants aged 7- and 11- or 12-month-old, each listened to a series of syllables such as “da” and “ta” as researchers recorded brain responses. Brain activity was observed in the superior temporal gyrus, as well as in Broca’s area and the cerebellum, cortical regions responsible for planning the motor movements required for producing speech. This pattern occurred for sounds in the 7-month-olds’ native language (English) as well as in a non-native language (Spanish), suggesting that at this age babies are responding to all speech sounds, regardless of whether have heard them before. In the 11-12 month infants, brain activation was different. An increase in motor activation to the non-native speech sounds relative to native speech was noted, which the Kuhl and colleagues interpret as showing that it takes more effort for the baby brain to predict which movements create non-native speech. 

So, what does this study add to what we know about infant speech and language development? 
Please share your thoughts by emailing marketing@asltip.com and we will add each comment to this blog post.

The full text article is available here


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