Baby Talk: What Scientific Studies Reveal about Its Impacts on Children

Based on the results of 5 studies, we summarize the findings in response to these two concerns below:

(1) In general, infants from age 0 to 2-2.5 years like talking with high positive affect and at a slower rate. Greater variance of pitches does not determine infants’ preferences even though it may modulate the positive affect.

(2) From age 0-2 years, babies learn words significantly from both infant-directed speech, and gradually learn best from both adult-directed and infant-directed speech. 

Below are the details of the findings:

(1) Positive affect rather than greater variety of pitch determines infants’ preference: Even though the studies in much earlier years (e.g. 1989) indicated that infants like baby talk, the studies in more recent years attempted to compare the affect and pitch to determine which plays a major role in infants’ preference. The findings show that infants like speech with positive affect and emotion, regardless of whether it is infant-directed or adult-directed.

In addition, greater variance or pitch does not determine infants’ preferences.  These findings have been shown consistently across an experimental study and a parents’ speech-analysis study.

Preference of rates of talking: The findings of a study show that younger infants (18-week-olds) prefer a slower rate of talking which is high in positive emotion whereas older infants (32-week-olds) prefer a normal rate of talking regardless of its emotion. The researchers explain that this result is because older infants “no longer rely on this acoustic cue for emotion.”

Effects on learning of words: In terms of learning of words, 21-month-olds learn words best both in infant-directed speech (“a slower rate, a higher fundamental frequency, greater pitch variations, longer pauses, repetitive intonational structures, and shorter sentences”) and adult-directed speech, whereas 27-month olds learn the words significantly both from infant-directed and adult-directed speech.   

Created on December 08 2015 at 02: 56 PM

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Details of Scientific Answers: Click on each bullet to Read References


1: "Infant preference for both male and female infant-directed talk: a developmental study of attentional and affective responsiveness," Canadian Journal of Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie, 1989, by Werker, J. F., & McLeod, P. J. . (Citations: 326).


1: "Is infant-directed speech prosody a result of the vocal expression of emotion?," Psychological science, 2000, by Trainor, L. J., Austin, C. M., & Desjardins, R. N.. (Citations: 256).

2: "Infants' listening preferences: Baby talk or happy talk?," Infancy, 2002, by Singh, L., Morgan, J. L., & Best, C. T. . (Citations: 131).

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language development, baby talk, speech infant, infant-directed speech, adult-directed speech, toddler

Baby Talk: What Scientific Studies Reveal about Its Impacts on Children

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