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Talking to your spouse like you talk to your dog leads to a happier marriage

New research from Lorand University suggests couples in long-term marriage often slip into a surprising mode of talk: one that closely resembles how we communicate with babies and dogs. This involves exaggerated facial expressions, high-pitched tones, and simplified language – the same hallmarks of affectionate “motherese.”

“The way parents talk to babies and each other shares a lot of similarities in how their facial expressions are changed,” says Édua Koós-Hutás, lead researcher on the study.

“This similarity could stem from the emotional closeness and bonding and help create a sincere and focused atmosphere when they talk.”

The universal language of love: Motherese

You might not know the term “motherese,” but you’ve definitely seen it in action. It’s that gentle cooing, high-pitched voice, and those big smiles parents use with their babies.

But it’s not just about being cute – this style of talking actually helps babies learn language and feel loved.

Interestingly, we do the same thing with our dogs. We might not be discussing philosophy with our furry friends, but we still use that sing-song voice and exaggerated expressions to convey simple messages and emotions.

Facial expressions and tone

The study closely examined 46 married individuals who had both a baby and a dog. The researchers carefully analyzed their facial expressions and emotional states as they interacted with their spouse, child, and pet individually.

When talking to their dogs or reciting nursery rhymes to their babies, the participants displayed more pronounced facial muscle movements. This approach was effective in capturing and holding the listener’s attention, whether the listener was a human or animal companion.

Marriage talk in lasting relationships

Surprisingly, the similar pattern of facial movements and tone emerged when spouses communicated with each other. This indicates that these exaggerated expressions might play a role in in enhancing the emotional bond between them.

One of the most surprising findings was how often participants used “surprised” facial expressions – wide eyes, raised eyebrows, and broad smiles – along with exaggerated mouth movements when talking to their spouses.

By contrast, interactions with strangers saw a reduction in the range of facial expressions and exaggerated mouth movements. This shows just how powerful these communication techniques are – they build intimacy and understanding in our closest relationships.

Effective marriage talk

Marriage isn’t just about shared words, as this study shows. The findings offer a playful reminder that love is expressed in the simplest ways.

“It’s easy to fall into routine in a long-term partnership,” explained Koós-Hutás. “This research shows that those little moments of lighthearted, almost childlike communication might be a key ingredient for keeping the spark alive.”

So, next time your spouse busts out an overly-enthusiastic grin and some high-pitched baby talk, don’t raise an eyebrow.

Maybe they’re just saying, “I love you” in a way that’s been proven successful across species – including our own.

More about “motherese”

As mentioned above, motherese, also known as “parentese” or “infant-directed speech,” represents a special way of talking that parents and caregivers often use when communicating with babies and young children.

This unique form of speech is characterized by a higher pitch, slower tempo, and exaggerated intonation. Unlike what some may think, motherese is not a simplistic or dumbed-down language. On the contrary, it is a sophisticated and intuitive means of engaging a child’s attention and facilitating language development.

The Characteristics of Motherese

Motherese is not just about speaking in a high-pitched voice. It encompasses a range of vocal and non-vocal elements designed to make communication more engaging and understandable for infants. Key characteristics include:

  • Higher Pitch: Parents often speak in a higher pitch than normal, which is believed to grab the baby’s attention more effectively.
  • Exaggerated Intonation: The rises and falls in pitch are more pronounced, making the speech pattern more engaging and easier for babies to follow.
  • Slower Tempo: Speaking more slowly allows infants time to process the sounds and meanings of words.
  • Clear Pronunciation: Words are articulated more clearly in motherese, aiding the learning process.
  • Simplified Vocabulary: The use of simpler words helps babies grasp the meanings of phrases and sentences.
  • Repetition: Repeating words or phrases helps reinforce language learning.

The Benefits of Motherese

Research has shown that motherese plays a crucial role in language acquisition and cognitive development. The benefits include:

  • Enhanced Attention: The distinctive qualities of motherese help capture and maintain a baby’s attention, which is essential for learning.
  • Improved Language Skills: Infants exposed to motherese tend to develop a larger vocabulary and better linguistic skills at an earlier age.
  • Social Bonding: Motherese fosters emotional connection and communication between the parent and child, laying the foundation for healthy social development.
  • Cognitive Development: Engaging in motherese stimulates brain development, aiding in the overall cognitive growth of the child.

In summary, motherese is far more than just baby talk. It is a powerful tool that parents use instinctively to teach their children the nuances of language and communication. By employing this specialized speech pattern, parents not only enhance their children’s linguistic abilities but also strengthen the emotional bonds with them.

As such, motherese is a testament to the intuitive ways in which humans adapt their behavior to nurture and educate their offspring, reflecting the profound love and care that parents have for their children.

The study is published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.


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