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Lip-Reading Babies

February 1, 2012

Reading adults’ lips may help babies learn to talk.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Lip-reading babies…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

One of the most amazing qualities of being human is our ability to learn to talk in just a few short years. And new research suggests that babies achieve this, in part, by reading lips. Florida Atlantic University developmental psychologists David Lewkowicz and Amy Hansen-Tift tracked the eye gaze of 4- to 12-month-old babies as they watched videos of grown-ups talking. Lewkowicz says the younger babies looked primarily at the eyes of the speaker.

DAVID LEWKOWICZ (Florida Atlantic University):

But starting at 6 months, babies began to shift their attention away from the eyes and toward the mouth.

HIRSHON:

He says watching the mouth adds essential clues to how words are formed just as babies are beginning to babble. But by 12 months most babies had turned their gaze back to the eyes, probably because they provide important social cues. And other studies have shown that toddlers who don’t follow speakers’ eyes by age two are more likely to have a communication disorder such as autism. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.