Infant brains are hardwired to link images and sounds as they learn to speak

February 24, 2015 by Kelly Parkes-Harrison, University of Warwick

New research examining electrical brain activity in infants suggests that we are biologically predisposed to link images and sounds to create language.

In a paper published in the journal Cortex, an international team of researchers in the UK and in Japan, including those at the University of Warwick, examined the electrical activities of the brain in 11 month-olds at the initial stages of .

They used novel words ('kipi' or 'moma') to refer to pictures of a spiky or a rounded shape. They found the infants very quickly began to match the word to the image.

One of the authors, Dr Sotaro Kita from the University of Warwick said: "The oscillatory activity of the infant brainincreased when the word they heard matched the shape they were shown, compared to when it did not. This suggests that the infant brain spontaneously engages in matching visual and auditory input."

An analysis of how different areas of the brain are communicating with each other also showed surprising results.

Dr Kita said: "Communication traffic between regions of the brain was light when the word matched the shape, but the traffic became heavy especially in the left hemisphere, where language is typically processed, when the word did not match the shape. The left-hemisphere had to work harder to associate visual and auditory input when they are not a natural match."

"The N400 response was higher for mismatching word-image pairs, which is a classic index of word meaning processing in the . This indicates that the infants were trying to work out the meaning of the novel words."

Dr Kita added that these findings reveal that sound symbolism allows 11-month-old infants to spontaneously bind the speech sound and the visual referent, and this spontaneous binding may provide an insight that spoken words refers to objects you can see in the world.

He said: "It is this cross-modal mapping between sound and image that plays a key role in the origin and development of language-learning."

Explore further: Learning with all the senses: Movements and images facilitate vocabulary learning

More information: Michiko Asano, Mutsumi Imai, Sotaro Kita, Keiichi Kitajo, Hiroyuki Okada, Guillaume Thierry, "Sound symbolism scaffolds language development in preverbal infants," Cortex, Volume 63, February 2015, Pages 196-205, ISSN 0010-9452, DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2014.08.025.

Related Stories

Learning with all the senses: Movements and images facilitate vocabulary learning

February 5, 2015
"Atesi" - what sounds like a word from the Elven language of Lord of the Rings is actually a Vimmish word meaning "thought". Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have ...

Concentrating on word sounds helps reading instruction and intervention

January 27, 2015
A neuroimaging study by a University at Buffalo psychologist suggests that phonics, a method of learning to read using knowledge of word sounds, shouldn't be overlooked in favor of a whole-language technique that focuses ...

Scientists map brains of the blind to solve mysteries of human brain specialization

January 23, 2015
Studying the brain activity of blind people, scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are challenging the standard view of how the human brain specializes to perform different kinds of tasks, and shedding new light ...

Infants using known verbs to learn new nouns

March 7, 2014
There is a lot that 19-month-old children can't do: They can't tie their shoes or get their mittens on the correct hands. But they can use words they do know to learn new ones.

Brain's iconic seat of speech goes silent when we actually talk

February 17, 2015
For 150 years, the iconic Broca's area of the brain has been recognized as the command center for human speech, including vocalization. Now, scientists at UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland are challenging ...

Learning dialects shapes brain areas that process spoken language

October 18, 2013
Using advanced imaging to visualize brain areas used for understanding language in native Japanese speakers, a new study from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute finds that the pitch-accent in words pronounced in standard Japanese ...

Recommended for you

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.