When it comes to communication skills, maybe we were born with it.



Neuroscientist and language scientist Jenny Zuck led the first study to show how infant neural networks affect early childhood language learning skills. Credit: Kelly Davidson

How to absorb information from your surroundings and the adults around you as soon as your baby enters the world from the womb and start communicating with baby cries, sounds, laughs, and other types of baby talk immediately afterwards. ‘childbirth. Learn But are a child’s long-term language skills influenced by how the brain develops during early childhood and how much language development is affected by environment and development?

After following dozens of children over a five-year period, researchers at Boston University are examining how a baby’s brain is structured and how it relates to and how well he is able to learn a language at an early age. early. I did it. The environment plays a role in brain When Language development..

New research described in an article published in Cognitive developmental neuroscienceFound that organized pathways in the brain could lay the foundation for children’s language learning abilities in the first year of life. These routes are Known as white matter, And they act as connectors between billions of neurons called gray matter. Brain tissue.. This enables the exchange of signals, all the different tasks and functions that need to be performed, and all the biological processes that underlie us.

“Frequently used and useful metaphors are: white matter The road is a “highway” grey matter The kingdom is the “destination,” says Jennifer Zuk, a state university neuroscientist and licensed linguist who led the study. Performing a particular task, such as learning a new language, creates stronger and more sophisticated pathways in the area of ​​the brain responsible for that task, allowing information to flow more efficiently through the highway. white matter. Recent evidence suggests that white matter flows the fastest. According to Zuck, it develops during the first two years of life.

In addition to the development of white matter, scientists have long known that the environment also plays an important role in the formation of a person’s language skills, Zuk explains. However, many uncertainties remain as to whether nature or growth dominates in determining the composition of white matter and how well babies learn to communicate.

In their study, she and her colleagues sought answers to some specific questions, Zuk explains: Early on, to what extent do predisposed brain structures play a role in development. mosquito? Does the brain develop alongside language, and is the environment the ultimate driver of both advances? And how well does the early childhood brain structure prepare children for success in language?

To investigate this, Nadine Garb, a researcher at Zuck and Boston Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study, met 40 families of babies and used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to image the brain. of the baby. And collected the first white matter data. development. Considering that your baby needs to get a sound sleep to get a clear picture of brain activity and structure using MRI, this is no small feat.

“It was a very enjoyable process and a process that took a lot of patience and patience,” he said, facing the challenge of making a 4-18 month old baby comfortable enough to doze off thanks to MRI. No Zuk says the process – the loud sound of an MRI scan can be very confusing for a sleeping baby. “Few researchers in the world use this approach,” she says. “The MRI itself has a pretty noisy background and naturally gives birth to an infant. deep sleep Very useful to achieve this rather crazy feat. “

It is also the first time that scientists have used MRI scans to examine the relationship between brain structure and mature language development, which typically develops from infancy to school age.

One of the important white matter pathways that researchers looked at using MRI scans is called the arcuate bundle, which connects two regions of the brain involved in the generation and understanding of language. The researchers used MRI to measure white matter tissues by examining how easily water diffuses through the tissues and showing the density of the pathway.

Five years after rocking the baby for the first time and gently pushing him through an MRI machine, Zuk and his collaborators came together with the children and their families to reinvent each child’s new language skills. I evaluated it. Their assessment tested their knowledge of vocabulary, their ability to identify sounds in individual words, and their ability to mix individual sounds to understand words.

According to their results, children born with higher signs of white matter tissue had excellent language skills five years later. This suggests that communication skills may be strongly associated with predisposed brain structures. But Zuk says this is just the first piece of a very complex puzzle.

“Perhaps the individual differences in white matter seen in early childhood can be shaped by a combination of the child’s genetics and their environment,” she says. “But it’s fascinating to think about the specific factors that might create more effective white matter tissue for children early on.”

Their results show that the foundation of language is established in early childhood, but “continuous experience and exposure.” [to language] It will then be built on this foundation to support the child’s end result, ”Zuk explains.

She says this “means there is a real opportunity for greater environmental exposure” in the child’s first year of life. [to language] And prepare children for long-term success. ”

Zuk and his research partners will continue to study the relationship between the environmental and genetic components of language learning. Their goal is to help parents and caregivers identify early risk factors in infant language development and determine strategies to strengthen baby’s communication skills early in life.

Neuroscientists have found that the composition of substances in the brain at birth is related to the degree of language skills in 5-year-olds.

For more information:
Jennifer Zuk et al, Infant White Matter is positively associated with kindergarten language outcomes. Cognitive developmental neuroscience (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.dcn.2021.100973

Provided by
Boston university

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When it comes to communication skills, maybe we were born with it.


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