A researcher stands between two objects posted on a board and asks a 10-month-old participant sitting on his mother’s lap, “Where is the modi? Can you find the modi?” After following the child’s eyes, the researcher finds that one of the objects seems to have caught the child’s attention, even though it wasn’t the “modi.”
A new study conducted by Temple’s Infant Lab shows that 10-month-old babies are able to associate words with certain objects. “We found that at 10 months, a baby has the birth of their first learned words,” said Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a Main Campus psychology professor.
For years researchers have been studying the language skills of 12- to 18-month olds, and know at what age children begin saying their first words. In the new study conducted by Temple’s Infant Lab, researchers are now finding how and when these children learned their first words. They now know 10-month-old babies have the capability to associate a word with an object they find interesting.
“You find information and you keep burrowing in further and further, which is what eventually led us to this finding,” Hirsh-Pasek said. “It’s the marvel of the human mind,” she added.
The study consisted of 44 10-month-olds. The babies were shown several objects such as a sparkly blue wand, a pink party clacker and a few not-so-visually appealing objects such as a white cabinet latch and a beige bottle opener. Researchers then assigned made-up names to each object such as “modi,” “glorp” and “dawnoo.” Each object was then shown to the baby and called by its made up name. When later asked “where is the dawnoo?” the infants would refer back to the objects that caught their attention the most.
Twin participants Mark and Anita Farrell were more interested in the bright, “eye catching” objects, according to their mother, Penni Farrell. “My daughter absolutely loved the wand and my son liked the colorful objects, but he did like one white one,” Farrell said. “I think it was because it had an unfamiliar shape.”
The study signifies the importance of parents allowing their children to discover what objects are most appealing to them, and to then identify or label it with its proper name, only after they have expressed interest in the object.
“Babies have to know to attach a word to an object.” Hirsh-Pasek said. “They pick up what’s heard around them, this doesn’t mean that babies are now getting smarter, we [adults] are the ones that are getting smarter,” Hirsh-Pasek said.
Farrell admits to labeling everything the twins come in contact with that seems to spark their interest.
“I want to teach them the way they learn, to follow their lead and to not force them to be interested in things they are not,” Farrell said. “Now I’ll point at what they are looking at and say what it is. I remember pointing at a young girl once in the park and calling her a ‘little girl.’ She then turned around and said, ‘I’m not little, I’m four.'”
Hirsh-Pasek invites parents to get involved with the study by visiting the Infant Lab on Temple’s Ambler Campus, but adds that anyone can participate on their own. “We invite everyone to be a part of it,” she said.
Jennifer Southall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.