How talking to babies can boost their brain development

Talking to your baby or toddler shapes the structure of their brain, my colleagues and I have discovered.

For the study, which is published in The Journal of Neuroscience, we enrolled 163 children at either six months of age or 30 months of age. The children wore a small audio recorder in a specially made vest for between one and three days.

We recorded all the language input they received – such as adults talking to the child, adults talking to each other and siblings talking. In total, we recorded over 6,200 hours of talk.

We also studied the development of these children’s brains. They came into the local hospital with their families around the usual bedtime and made themselves at home in a “sleepy room”. When they fell asleep, the research team lifted the child onto a trolley and moved them, still asleep, into an MRI machine.

The child had protective, noise-cancelling headphones on, and a researcher monitored them in the room the entire time. Happily, most of the children stayed asleep for the 40 minutes of scanning time.