The Brain-Changing Power of Conversation
For parents, childcare providers, and early educators, new research describes a simple and powerful way to build children’s brains: talk with them, early and often.
A study in Psychological Science shows how conversation — the interplay between a parent or caregiver and a child — ignites the language centers in a child’s brain. It’s the first study to show a relationship between the words children hear at home and the growth of their neural processing capacities — showing, in effect, that how parents talk to their children changes children’s brains.
This new work — led by Harvard and MIT Ph.D. student Rachel Romeo, with coauthors at both of those institutions and the University of Pennsylvania — builds on what researchers have long known about the connections between “home language environment” and children’s cognitive development, literacy and language growth, and verbal ability.
The new findings replicate that behavioral research on quality over quantity and extend it by showing the effects in the brain. “Specifically, after we equate for socioeconomic status, we find that the sheer number of words spoken by an adult was not related to children’s neural processing of language, but that the number of conversational turns was,” says Romeo. “And that neural response, in turn, predicted children’s language skills. It really is the quality of language exposure that matters, over and above the quantity of words dumped onto a child.”
What Parents and Early Educators Should Know
- From infancy, parents should look for chances to have conversations with their child — even if it’s just responding to coos or gurgles.
- Conversational interplay between caregiver and child is enough to transform the biology of kids’ brains. The quality of these exchanges is more important than the quantity of words children hear.
- Conversation drives literacy skills and cognitive development across all socioeconomic levels, regardless parents’ income or education. It’s a powerful, actionable, and simple tool for all parents to use.
Source: Usable Knowledge | The Brain-Changing Power of Conversation, https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/02/brain-changing-power-conversation © President and Fellows of Harvard College
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