Curious Parents

There's a Reason Babies Respond To High-Pitched Baby Talk

Ever noticed how your voice shoots up a couple of octaves when you see a baby? For most of us, this change in tone is seemingly involuntary. While research varies on whether or not using a baby voice when speaking to your baby is beneficial, they do agree that babies prefer to listen to these high-pitched tones. Let the peekaboos commence!

In a 2015 study by McGill University, Canadian researchers discovered that 6-month-old infants were much more attracted to their own speech patterns than those of adults. The infants listened to "a repeating vowel sound that mimicked those made by an adult woman or those by a baby" using a synthesis tool. Researchers measured the length of each infant's attention span. On average, the infants listened to a fellow baby's vowels 40 percent longer than the adult woman's vowels. It's important to note that the "infant-like vowel sounds that they heard were not yet part of their everyday listening experience." Meaning, the babies weren't partial to their own kind simply out of familiarity. Knowing infants' speech preferences can help us design more effective tools in developing their speech.

Another study in 2008 by Smith and Trainor found that babies reacted positively to their mothers' voices when they spoke in a higher pitch than normal, i.e. infant-directed speech (IDS). The researchers theorize that infants actually help guide their parents by providing positive feedback when they like what they hear. Similar to listening to other infants, IDS helps keep your baby's attention. Why is this? Prof. Linda Polka from McGill University suggests, "Perhaps, when we use a high, infant-like voice pitch to speak to our babies, we are actually preparing them to perceive their own voice." Watch the following videos to learn more about baby talk and language development in children.

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Written by Curiosity Staff December 5, 2016

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