Babies learn repetitive sounds faster

By Sheryl Kay • Published: December 11th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Its music to any parent’s ears when a baby utters that first “mama” or “dada.” But apparently there’s a bit more than infant adoration going on.

Researchers have found that due to the neurological hardwiring of the human brain, infants learn words composed of repetitive sounds more quickly.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online Early Edition, the study was conducted at the University of British Columbia. Scientists analyzed the brain scans of twenty-two newborns and measured the amount of oxygen in certain regions of the brain while the babies listened to recordings of imaginary words. Some of the words had no repeating syllables, while others like “penana” and “mubaba” ended in duplicated sounds.

Researchers found that when the repeating words were sounded, brain activity increased in the babies’ temporal and left frontal areas, whereas no unique responses were obtained with the nonrepetitive words.

They noted that the study findings are consistent with the fact that the language center of most right-handed adults is located on the left side of the brain, and they concluded humans are born with these language acquisition capabilities.

This helps explain why even in other cultures, newborns learn words most easily when there are repetitive syllables, like Papa in Italian, and Baba in Swahili.

Of course none of this takes away from that special feeling when baby says “dada,” but it might help grandfather feel a bit better that his name wasn’t said first!