From the time my firstborn was a bitty baby who couldn't even sit, I loved to organize play dates with my mama friends—which basically consisted of us chatting in someone's living room while bouncing the babies on our laps. Although I admit I was mostly looking at the benefits of adult conversation for myself, it turns out my infant was getting more out of his baby "conversations" than I ever realized: A new study found babies as young as 5 months prefer listening to other babies babble rather than adults.
According to the study from the Acoustical Society of America, 5-month-old babies had 40% longer attention spans when listening to other babies "talk" than adult vocalizations of the same vowels. "Infants' own vocalizations are quite potent," says researcher Linda Polka, a professor at McGill University. "Infant speech seems to capture and hold infant attention, sometimes prompting positive emotions."
Not only are babies more interested in talking with each other, but these early conversations also promote the development of more advanced language skills. Polka says, "This may motivate infants to be vocally active and make it easier to evaluate their own vocalizations, perhaps energizing and supporting spoken language development."
For the study, the researchers used a synthesizer that can replicate the vowel sounds that babies and adults make. To test how babies respond to the sounds, researchers had babies sit facing a visually appealing checkerboard pattern; the babies could then turn sounds off by gazing away from the checkerboard. As the researchers found, the babies were much more engaged when listening to sounds like those from another baby.
But lest we feel offended, Polka stresses the importance of continuing to talk with our babies. Not only does our own "baby talk" serve as the gateway to adult conversations, but it's also great for their overall brain development. Now we just know that babies are bringing skills and interests of their own to the mix. And while Polka says there is more research to be done, she says it's fascinating to see "what is shaped by their experience as listeners and as 'talkers-in-training.'"
For now, this is another reason to go ahead and schedule that playdate for your baby. Even if it seems like they just spend the time babbling and co-existing, they truly are enjoying the company from their little friends.