I-LABS researchers have discovered a connection between conversational turn taking with infants, and their brain maturation related to language development

I-LABSPublication, Research

father and son play with toy dinosaurs
father and son play with toy dinosaurs

Have you ever wondered what exactly is going on in the brains of babies as you return their coos and chat through the millionth diaper change? Turns out, quite a lot. Researchers at I-LABS looked at how the structure of babies’ brains change in response to early language input. Their findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, explored the effects of conversational turn taking in brain areas related to expressive language development and long-term language ability. 

Researchers compared home recordings of parent-child interactions at 6, 10, 14, 18, and 24 months and estimates of brain maturity at 2 years of age gathered from MRI scans. To analyze brain maturity, researchers looked at the density white matter myelination in the brain. White matter serves as connective superhighways between regions of the brain. The greater the density of myelin, the more efficiently information is transferred. I-LABS scientists focused on specific brain regions associated with expressive language development and long-term language ability, the left arcuate fasciculus (AF) and superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF). What they found is remarkable: back-and-forth interaction is key. Parent-infant conversational turns specifically predicted white matter density in both the AF and SLF regions of the brain. Measures of language quantity alone did not predict myelin density.

It’s not just quantity, but the quality of language that babies experience, specifically back and forth conversation, that has a lasting impact on brain development. What does this mean for your diaper change conversations? Keep chatting! These small moments between parent and child accumulate into positive impacts for the child beyond infancy.

Read the Journal of Neuroscience publication here. The work was also selected as a featured article.

Related article from Early Learning Nation.