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Study: Babies Process Words Much Like Adults

“Does Mommy’s widdle baby want some yum-yum?”

I have never been of fan of baby talk. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that hearing parents speaking in high-pitched voices and adding “y” sounds to the end of every word (blankie, diapy, owie) makes me cringe.

Here’s another reason to give baby talk a rest: a new, eye-opening study from the University of California, San Diego found that babies process words much like adults do.

Researchers presented babies just over a year old with separate images of familiar items like a ball or dog. The babies then heard the spoken words “ball” and “dog.” Using MRI brain scans, researchers observed brain activity that indicated that the babies were able to detect when a mismatched pair was presented (a picture of a ball followed by the word “dog”).

“Babies are using the same brain mechanisms as adults to access the meaning of words from what is thought to be a mental 'database' of meanings, a database which is continually being updated right into adulthood,” said Katherine E. Travis, one of the researchers who conducted the study. In other words, it’s never too early to drop the cutesy language, and just speak like a normal human being.

Do you find yourself speaking in baby talk with your child? Will this study change how you talk to your baby?

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