Everything started when three scientists from the University of California in San Diego initiated a study about how babies’ brains are processing all the information they receive every day. Surprisingly, they discovered that babies just over a year old analyse words they hear with the same brain structures as adults, and in the same amount of time. Even if they are too young to talk, they are capable of understanding the meaning of the words, which is a major discovery in the Science world. In fact, Katherine E. Travis, one of the scientists working on the study says:
“Babies are using the same brain mechanisms as adults to access the meaning of words from what is thought to be a mental ‘database’ of meanings, a database which is continually being updated right into adulthood.”
Before this study, most of people were assuming that infants would have a completely different mechanism for learning words and that it would take time for them to be able to think like adults. In order to bring tangible proofs to the theory, the scientists put in place two different experiments and examined the babies’ brain activity.
First test consisted of making the infants listen to words accompanied by sounds with similar acoustic properties, but no meaning. Second test consisted of showing them pictures of familiar objects with saying words that would match or mismatch the name of the object. By looking at the amplitude of the brain activity during each experiment, the scientists were able to conclude that the infants could detect the mismatch between a word and a picture.
The researchers say their results have implications for future studies, for example development of diagnostic tests based on brain imaging which could indicate whether a baby has healthy word understanding even before speaking, enabling early screening for language disabilities or autism.
Pretty fascinating, isn’t it?