On May 9th, 2018 we learned about

By five months old, babies prefer the sound of each other’s babble over any words adults can offer

Once a child learns to speak, it’s only a matter of time before they start parroting their parents’ favorite phrases. Even things you didn’t know you had a habit of saying are suddenly returned to your ears, albeit in a cuter, squeakier voice. It sort of feels like hearing your own voice in a recording (“Do I really say that?”) but it’s also slightly flattering, as you realize how you’re influencing the thoughts and actions of this new little person. It turns out that this influence may be overstated though, at least if your child has other babies to listen to.

Preference for the sounds of their peers

Many studies have investigated babies’ interest in speech around when they’re around seven months old, since that’s often when they’re just beginning to start experimenting with speech in the form of babbling. We know that the sing-song “baby voice” adults often use with kids helps these tiny listeners engage, although they also benefit from hearing normal conversations as well. These interactions may all be compromises though, as it seems that what babies really love to hear is the chatter of other babies, even over the sound of their own parents’ voices.

That wouldn’t be surprising in context of teenagers, but this preference for the sounds of a child’s peers apparently starts as early as five months old. In an experiment, babies could trigger recordings of vocalizations by turning to look at a checkerboard pattern on a television. They spent more time looking, and therefore listening, when the sounds they triggered were from another baby.

Seeking the secret ingredient in babies’ speech

Presumably those babies aren’t exactly amazing conversationalists, so researchers are assuming that there’s something about the quality of their voices that hold their peers’ attention. Even when an adult woman matches the exact pitch of a babies’ vocalization, it’s not as interesting to a listening child. With the help of a special synthesizer built to imitate human speech, researchers are hoping to deduce exactly what aspect of a baby’s proto-babble makes it so fascinating. If adults can somehow command that kind of attention, we may be able to help children’s language development. Or better yet, we may learn how to better hold our kids’ attention when we’re trying to talk to them.

Source: From the mouths of babes: Infants really enjoy hearing from their peers, EurekAlert!

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