25 Apr 2014, Katy Morton
Researchers from Purdue University in the United States analysed the language development of nearly 50 four-month-olds while they listened to a continuous stream of nonsense words as they sat on their parent’s lap.
The children were split into two groups. The first group were touched on their knee every time a nonsense word such as ‘dobita’ was spoken. This process was repeated two dozen times.
The word ‘leopga’ was also played 24 times to the same children, but they were only touched on one occasion. Researchers touched children another 23 times but during other syllable sequences.
Following this, the four-month-olds participated in a language preference study, in which the majority of children pulled ‘dobita’ out of the continuous stream of speech.
The second group of children were played the same continuous speech and new words, but researchers touched their own faces.
The children in this experiment did not show that they had pulled out any words.
From the findings, researchers determined that children treat touches as if they are related to what they hear, meaning that touch could have an impact on their word learning.
Amanda Seidl, associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at Purdue University, said, ‘We think of touch as conveying affection, but our research shows that children can relate touches to their incoming speech signal.’
She added, ‘Children need to find words before they can attach real meaning to them. Because names of body parts are often the first words that babies learn and touching is often involved when caregivers talk about body parts, we speculated that touch could act as a cue to words.’