And Mommy…talk BABY to me!

Monday, August 31, 2009 at Monday, August 31, 2009
Anyone that has ever seen a woman interact with a baby can attest to one fact, one certainty in life, if you will…women baby talk to babies. Period. I don’t know what it is, but something just makes us want to raise the pitch of our voice and sound like our tongue was just stuck to the icy flagpole outside. Oh and in case you didn’t catch the title, it is taken from Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me” song…and yes, you are welcome for it now being stuck in your head! And if you are too young to know who Poison is consider yourself lucky.

But why-oh-why do we talk to babies like that? I mean, babies learn language from those that speak to them and will talking like a baby to your baby impair their language development?

Many, many studies have shown that babies prefer baby talk, aka motherese, parentese or infant-directed talk, to normal plain old adult talk. Baby talk not only has a higher pitch, it also is typically more rhythmic, slower, shorter and more exaggerated than adult talk. Baby talk has also been shown to facilitate the bond between the infant and caregiver and assist in language development and communication between the adult and the baby. So clearly it has been shown to be beneficial.

In 2007, an article published in Brain and Cognition looked at what is going on when an infant hears “baby talk”. The researchers used Electroencephalography (EEG) (which is just a fancy schmancy way of recording electrical activity of the brain when its neurons are firing) and they looked at heart rate using 39, 9-month old infants while they listened to baby talk. The baby talk differed in which emotion it conveyed, i.e. love, surprise, fear, etc. They found that the greatest brain activity was in the frontal lobe (the executive, decision maker, problem-solver) and the highest EEG activity was associated with fear, then love/comfort, and so on. Despite the affect presented (i.e. fear, comfort) all of the infants’ heart rate decelerated. Another interesting finding is that babies who are reported as more temperamental showed greater right frontal lobe activation in response to baby talk expressing fear. Previous research has shown that at rest, babies that exhibit greater fear responses to novel stimuli have greater activity in their right frontal lobe at rest compared to infants that do not exhibit these fearful responses.

There is quite a bit of research that shows infants have greater at rest right frontal lobe activity and this will influence the personality of the infant, and into adulthood. This article is good at showing that the content of the talk is also important. If the affect is fear, surprise, or other “negative” emotions, it will affect activity in the frontal lobe differently than affect of comfort, love, etc.

Of course now comes the chicken and the egg aspect. Are fearful, more anxious babies that way because of their brain morphology? Or do their parents create the brain to wire in a way that makes them more anxious? Based on this article, even if you are baby talking, if you are talking in an affect of fear the baby is able to discern that. Or does brain wiring of this nature occur in utero (of course it does!). If you are an overly anxious person, or have encountered a high stress, or fearful situation, your fetus is sure to respond accordingly.

Any thoughts?

Santesso DL, Schmidt LA, Trainor LJ. Frontal brain electrical activity (EEG) and heart rate in response to affective infant-directed (ID) speech in 9-month-old infants. Brain Cogn. 2007 Oct;65(1):14-21. Epub 2007 Jul 30.

1 Responses to And Mommy…talk BABY to me!

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hey, girl. Very interesting. I know I didn't talk baby talk to my kids, at least not regularly.I used words for them to understand but I made an effort to talk to them just like you and I would.(mostly because it is annoying) My kids began talking earlier and more effectively than other kids their age(kids we were around). They are totally different in emotional attachment. My most stressful pregnancy was my oldest. He tends to be anxious like me. My daughter is the SAME way. It's like there are 2 more of me! Crazy, I know. My pregnancy with her was great. My middle son is not anxious at all, super confident. Great pregnancy. I talked to them all the same way. I think maybe first borns might sense a negative tone when a mom doesn't know what she's doing. Maybe a natural sense of fear. Most moms are more knowlegdeable and confident after that.

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