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Infant language exposure shapes brain circuitry

Taking turns in "conversation" with caregivers relates to synchronized activation in language areas

Society for Neuroscience

Research News

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IMAGE: An infant wears the LENA audio recording device in a pocket on the front of a special vest. view more 

Credit: Dr. Kathryn L. Humphreys

The type and quantity of an infant's language exposure relates to their brain function, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

Babies learn their native language by interacting with their caregivers. Rather than simply overhearing adult words, taking turns in a "conversation" predicts an infant's future language abilities. But it is unclear how language exposure shapes brain circuitry. The brain's language networks may develop in two stages: a bottom-up auditory-processing network begins developing in gestation, and a top-down network for processing more complex syntax and semantics develops in early childhood.

King et al. documented the at-home language exposure of 5 to 8-month-old infants and used fMRI to measure their resting language network activity while they slept in the scanner. Regions in each of the two language subnetworks activated together, indicating coordinated activity. Participating in a greater number of conversational turns at home was associated with weaker connectivity in the bottom-up subnetwork. Brain connections can both weaken and strengthen as they are refined throughout development; future research may reveal how weaker connectivity related to more conversations influences infant language development. Regardless, the results highlight the importance of early life environments in shaping infant brain function and development, and the need to support caregivers in providing enriching environments.

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Manuscript title: Naturalistic Language Input is Associated with Resting-State Functional Connectivity in Infancy

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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