According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 6 month old babies are already understanding and connecting words in the same way adults do.
Researchers at Duke University lab used eye-tracking software and baby hats rigged with video cameras to examine if babies understand that some words (like “car” and “stroller”) are related, while others (like “dog” and “milk”) are not. The results suggest that babies do know when words are linked, and their inner vocabulary is influenced by how people talk about objects at home.
“My take-home to parents always is, the more you can talk to your kid, the better,” says Elika Bergelson, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. “Because they are listening and learning from what you say, even if it doesn’t appear to be so.”
In the first part of the study, the babies came to a lab and looked at pairs of images, some related and some not. While the babies were shown the picture, a parent would name one of the objects. The researchers found the babies spent more time looking at the image that was named when the two images were unrelated than when they were related.
Basically, it was easy for them to look at the object mom named when the objects were different, but when they were related, the babies were a bit confused. They know “nose” and “mouth” are similar but know that “bottle” and “car” are not.
“They may not know the full-fledged adult meaning of a word, but they seem to recognize that there is something more similar about the meaning of these words than those words,” says Bergelson.
The second part of the experiment saw the babies sent home with her little hats rigged with video cameras and vests that recorded audio. The researchers looked through the recordings and found that babies pick up word meanings when parents talk about something that is there.
If mom is holding a pen and says “pen,” baby learns the word for pen, but if mom talks about something the baby can’t see, the link isn’t made.
Experts note the research is in its infancy and aren’t yet suggesting that parents talk to their baby in a certain way, but the findings do follow previous research that suggests “eye spy” is great for babies’ brains.