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Speech Bias

March 20, 2006

New research shows that babies are born with a love of speech.


Look who’s listening. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Babies are born with a preference for the sounds of speech as opposed to other types of sounds. This according to developmental psychologist Athena Vouloumanos of McGill University in Canada. She and her colleagues tested how much newborns sucked on pacifiers in response to two sounds: a spoken nonsense word…[LIF]…and a computer-generated sound that has the melody and main frequencies of speech, but is not speech…[non-speech sound].

ATHENA VOULOUMANOS (McGill University, Canada):
And what we found is that as the experiment goes on the infant—the neonate—would suck more and more to hear speech and less and less to hear non-speech, which tells us—the experimenters—that the newborn is showing a preference, or being more aroused by speech than these other counterpart sounds.

She says that means babies are born prepared to learn that uniquely human form of communication called language. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.