Nav: Home

Study shows infants pay more attention to native speakers

October 05, 2016

Almost from the moment of birth, human beings are able to distinguish between speakers of their native language and speakers of all other languages. We have a hard-wired preference for our own language patterns, so much so that the cries of very young infants reflect the melodies of their native language.

The connection between language and social preferences is well-established. New research, recently published in Frontiers in Psychology, demonstrates that infants also pay attention to language cues in deciding where to place their attention. Dr. Hanna Marno (Department of Cognitive Science at the Central European University, Hungary and International School for Advanced Studies, Italy) conducted a study to determine whether young babies would selectively pay attention to different speakers in their environment, even when they do not understand the meanings of the words.

In the experiment, forty 12-month-old infants first listened to two adult female speakers -- one in their native language of Italian, the other in Slovenian - for two minutes. The infants then observed movies of both women -- the native and non-native speaker separately -- gazing at two colorful objects.

At this stage the infants attended equally to both objects for the same amount of time, regardless of speaker. Dr. Marno's team then measured how long the infants gazed at the objects, without any further visual reference to the two speakers. This time the infants focused on the object that had first been presented by the native speaker for a longer period of time. Even though language was not directly related to the objects, infants appeared to be making linguistic distinctions in their object preferences.

Later the effect was repeated also with forty 5-month-old infants. Just as with the 12-month-olds, these infants ultimately gazed longer at the objects that had first been presented by the native speaker. This provides more evidence of how much listening to native speakers affects infants' behavior.

From one point of view this is a distressing finding. Marno's research replicates earlier findings showing how quickly humans form social categories, making 'ingroup' and 'outgroup' distinctions. But there are also more hopeful interpretations of this research. These infants' behavior may not be a deliberate act of exclusion so much as a necessary filtering device for navigating a complex world.

"This study reveals the great importance of cultural and linguistic similarity in how infants choose to direct their attention. From the moment of birth humans possess the capacity to make distinctions between speakers of their native language and others, which helps understand how infants and young children are tuned to quickly acquire the knowledge of their society and adopt to their cultural environment," said Dr. Marno.
-end-


Frontiers

Related Language Articles:

The world's most spoken language is...'Terpene'
If you're small, smells are a good way to stand out.
Study analyzes what 'a' and 'the' tell us about language acquisition
A study co-authored by an MIT professor suggests that experience is an important component of early-childhood language usage although it doesn't necessarily account for all of a child's language facility.
Why do people switch their language?
Due to increasing globalization, the linguistic landscape of our world is changing; many people give up use of one language in favor of another.
Discovering what shapes language diversity
A research team led by Colorado State University is the first to use a form of simulation modeling to study the processes that shape language diversity patterns.
'Speaking my language': Method helps prepare teachers of dual language learners
Researchers at Lehigh University, led by L. Brook Sawyer and Patricia H.
The brain watched during language learning
Researchers from Nijmegen, the Netherlands, have for the first time captured images of the brain during the initial hours and days of learning a new language.
'Now-or-never bottleneck' explains language acquisition
We are constantly bombarded with linguistic input, but our brains are unable to remember long strings of linguistic information.
The secret language of microbes
Social microbes often interact with each other preferentially, favoring those that share certain genes in common.
A programming language for living cells
New language lets MIT researchers design novel biological circuits.
Syntax is not unique to human language
Human communication is powered by rules for combining words to generate novel meanings.

Related Language Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...