Babies appear to lip read as part of language acquisition

There’s Interesting new research out about how infants learn to talk. While they tend gaze directly into the eyes of those holding them until the age of six months, they often then switch to reading lips, watching mouth movements intently as a way of learning how to sound out words themselves.

The AP reported, “Babies don’t learn to talk just from hearing sounds. New research suggests they’re lip-readers too,” according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Florida scientists discovered that starting around age six months, babies begin shifting from the intent eye gaze of early infancy to studying mouths when people talk to them.”

“Scientists from Florida Atlantic University studied 89 infants ranging in age from four months to 12 months old,” ABC News reports.

“They also studied 21 adults. Participants watched a 50-second video of a woman reciting a monologue in their native English, while researchers used an eye tracker to determine where they directed their pupils while watching and listening to the video.”

MSNBC points out, “Results showed that at four months of age, babies focused almost solely on the women’s eyes.”

However, “by six to eight months of age, when the infants entered the so-called ‘babbling’ stage of language acquisition and reached a milestone of cognitive development in which they can direct their attention to things they find interesting, their focus shifted to the women’s mouths.

They continue to ‘lip read’ until about 10 months of age, a point when they finally begin mastering the basic features of their native language. At this point, infants also begin to shift their attention back to the eyes.”

HealthDay explains, “The finding challenges the conventional belief that infants learn to talk only by listening to people around them, according to the Florida Atlantic University researchers.

They also said their discovery may suggest new ways to diagnose autism spectrum disorders.”

That is because “contrary to typically developing children, infants who are as yet undiagnosed but who are at risk for autism may continue to focus on the mouth of a native-language talker at 12 months of age and beyond.”

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