Touch Influences How Infants Learn Language Tickling a baby’s toes may be cute, but those touches may also help babies learn the words in their language. Research from Purdue University published April 16 in Developmental Science shows that a caregiver’s touch could help babies to find words in the continuous stream of speech. “We found that ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   July 01, 2014
Touch Influences How Infants Learn Language
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Research in Brief   |   July 01, 2014
Touch Influences How Infants Learn Language
The ASHA Leader, July 2014, Vol. 19, 12. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19072014.12
The ASHA Leader, July 2014, Vol. 19, 12. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB1.19072014.12
Tickling a baby’s toes may be cute, but those touches may also help babies learn the words in their language. Research from Purdue University published April 16 in Developmental Science shows that a caregiver’s touch could help babies to find words in the continuous stream of speech.
“We found that infants treat touches as if they are related to what they hear and thus these touches could have an impact on their word learning,” said Amanda Seidl, an associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences. “We think of touch as conveying affection, but our recent research shows that infants can relate touches to their incoming speech signal.”
Seidl and her colleagues tested 48 English-learning 4-month-olds at Purdue’s Infant Speech Lab in two groups as the infants sat on a parent’s lap facing an experimenter while listening to a pre-recorded continuous stream of speech of nonsense words.
In the first group, every time a nonsense word, such as “dobita,” was spoken, the experimenter touched the baby’s knee. This occurred two dozen times. Also, the word “lepoga” was played 24 times, but the infant was only touched once on the elbow during the playing of this word. The other 23 touches to the elbow occurred on other syllable sequences.
Following this listening, the babies participated in a language preference study, and almost all showed that they had pulled “dobita”—the word reinforced by aligned touching—out of the continuous stream of speech.
In the second experiment, Seidl’s team played the same format of continuous speech and new words, but the experimenter touched his or her eyebrow or chin instead of the baby. The children in this experiment did not pull out any words.
“It didn’t matter how much time the infant spent looking at the experimenter’s face, the babies were not able to use these cues in the same way as they were when their own body was touched,” said Seidl, who is now looking at individual differences in how parents speak to and touch their baby.
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July 2014
Volume 19, Issue 7