Those of you who have young infants will be familiar with the babbling sounds they like to make. But how do you respond? A new study from The University of Iowa and Indiana University suggests that how parents react to their infants’ prattling may influence their language development.

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Infants whose parents are attentive to their babbling sounds have greater advancement in language development, according to researchers.

The research team, including Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, recently published their findings in the journal Infancy.

In 2003, a study by Gros-Louis and colleagues found that when infants looked at their mothers and babbled, infants were able to learn more advanced, syllable-like sounds more quickly when mothers responded positively – by smiling or touching them, for example – compared with infants whose mothers did not respond positively to their babbling.

In this latest study, the team wanted to see how mothers’ responsiveness to their baby’s babbling affected their language development over a longer period.

Over a 6-month period, the researchers monitored the interactions between 12 mothers and their 8-month-old babies for 30 minutes twice a month.

During each session, the team looked at how mothers responded when their child made positive vocal sounds, such as cooing and babbling, particularly when such sounds were directed at the mother.

Gros-Louis and colleagues found that when mothers made an effort to respond to what they believed their infant was trying to say, their baby showed greater advancement in language development. In detail, they made more advanced consonant-vowel sounds, meaning their babbling started to sound more like words.

In addition, these infants began to direct more of their babbling toward their mothers as time elapsed. “The infants were using vocalizations in a communicative way, in a sense, because they learned they are communicative,” explains Gros-Louis.

The same results were not seen among infants whose mothers who did not make as much effort to understand their prattling.

All mothers were required to complete a survey a month after the study had ceased that detailed their infants’ language development. Infants whose mothers were attentive to their babbling during the study period produced more words and gestures aged 15 months than infants whose mothers who were less attentive to their babbling throughout the study.

The team notes that other research they have conducted shows that infants have similar responsiveness to both mother’s and father’s attentiveness, therefore the findings can also be applied to fathers.

These findings, alongside the 2003 findings, show that a child’s language development can be influenced by how a parent responds to their child’s communication efforts in infancy, according to the researchers.

Study co-author Andrew King, a senior scientist in psychology at Indiana University, says these results show that “social stimulation shapes at a very early age what children attend to,” adding:

If you can show the parent can shape what an infant attends to, there is the possibility to shape what the child is sensitive to. They are learning how to learn.”

The team concludes that although their findings could change how individuals think about communicative development in humans, further studies involving a larger number of participants are warranted.

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, suggesting that babies start to learn language while in the womb.