One thing language gives us is a way of exchanging information and a way of maintaining our social bonds and those are two things that babies need to do from the moment they are born.

Ruth Tincoff

Parents love to babble to their babies. But what does a baby actually hear?

Ruth Tincoff, an assistant professor of psychology, is finding some answers to that question.

"Babies can connect a voice and a face at a very early age, but do they connect that a word is about something in the world? That is one question that I work on," Tincoff said.

Tincoff's experiments are simple: for 10 to 15 minutes, the baby sits on his or her parent's lap while lights flash or videos play and speakers play words or sentences. Tincoff later uses video of the baby's responses to determine what words or sounds caught the baby's attention.

"I found that by six months they can map words onto their parents, so 'Mommy' means just their mommy and 'Daddy' means just their daddy," Tincoff said. Babies also recognize words like hands and feet, with which they have lots of tactile experience, at about the same age.

Considering the importance of communication, it is not surprising that babies are paying attention to language right from birth. In fact, Tincoff sees language development as an extension of social and cognitive development rather than a separate ability.

"One thing language gives us is a way of exchanging information and a way of maintaining our social bonds and those are two things that babies need to do from the moment they are born," Tincoff said.

Tincoff said parents enjoy contributing to the research.

"Parents usually see it as fun," Tincoff said. "They get to learn a little more about child development." If you and your baby are interested in participating in Tincoff's studies at Bucknell, contact her at 570-577-1787 or Ruth Tincoff.

Posted Sept. 22, 2008

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