Newborn babies have an inbuilt ability to pick out words at just three days old, a new research has revealed.
While parents might think they have to use baby talk when they chat to their newborn, new findings have revealed infants, even those just a few days old, might understand more than they think.
The study, published in Developmental Science and funded by the European Research Council, is a collaboration between scientists at the International School for Advanced Studies in Italy, the Neurospin Centre in France, the University of Liverpool and The University of Manchester.
The research team played a three and a half minute audio clip to the infants, in which four meaningless words were buried in a stream of syllables.
Using a pain-free technique called Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, which shines light into the brain, they were able to measure how much was absorbed, revealing which parts of the brain were active.
Consequently scientists uncovered two mechanisms in three-day-old infants, which give them the skills to pick out words in a stream of sounds.
According to Dr Alissa Ferry from University of Manchester the discovery provides a key insight into a first step to learning language.
“We think this study highlights how sentient newborn babies really are and how much information they are absorbing,” she said in a statement. “That’s quite important for new parents and gives them some insight into how their baby is listening to them.”
Also commenting on the findings Dr Ana Flò, Neurospin, said: “Language in incredibly complicated and this study is about understanding how infants try to make sense of it when they first hear it. We often think of language as being made up of words, but words often blur together when we talk. So one of the first steps to learn language is to pick out the words.
“Our study shows that at just three days old, without understanding what it means, they are able pick out individual words from speech. And we have identified two important tools that we are almost certainly born with, that gives them the ability to do this.”
The discovery follows research last year that newborn babies can actually smile at their parents as a way of expressing emotion.
Up until the second half of the 20th century, a newborn’s behaviour was largely considered reflexive with scientists assuming that a baby has not yet learnt how to express emotion in social situations.
It is still widely believed that babies only smile in response to bowel and bladder movements, muscle twitches or for no specific reason at all.
But growing research is beginning to suggest that babies may in fact have the ability to give ‘social’ smiles.
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