A new study led by the University of York suggests that children with more talkative parents have a learning advantage. The researchers found a link between exposure to large amounts of adult speech and improved cognitive skills.
The investigation was focused on 107 preschoolers between the ages of two and four, who wore tiny audio recorders on their clothing. Over the course of three days, interactions with parents and other caregivers were recorded in the home environment for up to 16 hours per day.
The parents and caregivers were asked to complete activities with the children, such as drawing and matching tasks, which were designed to test cognitive skills.
“Using the audio recorders allowed us to study real-life interactions between young children and their families in an unobtrusive way within the home environment rather than a lab setting,” said study lead author and PhD student Katrina d’Apice.
“We found that the quantity of adult spoken words that children hear is positively associated with their cognitive ability. However, further research is needed to explore the reasons behind this link – it could be that greater exposure to language provides more learning opportunities for children, but it could also be the case that more intelligent children evoke more words from adults in their environment.”
The research demonstrated that high quality adult speech may have benefits for children’s linguistic development. For example, children who interacted with adults who used a diverse vocabulary were found to use a larger variety of words themselves.
“This study is the largest naturalistic observation of early life home environments to date,” said senior author Professor Sophie von Stumm. “We found that the quantity of adult spoken words that children were exposed to varied greatly within families. Some kids heard twice as many words on one day as they did on the next.”
“The study highlights the importance of treating early life experiences as dynamic and changeable rather than static entities – approaching research in this way will help us to understand the interplay between environmental experiences and children’s differences in development.”
The study is published in the journal Developmental Psychology.