In a follow-up to her earlier studies of learning in infancy, developmental psychologist Dr. Lisa Scott (photo) and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (U Mass-Amherst) are reporting that talking to babies in their first year, in particular naming things in their world, can help them make connections between what they see and hear, and these learning benefits can be seen as much as five years later. "Learning in infancy between the ages of six to nine months lays a foundation for learning later in childhood," Dr. Scott says. "Infants learn labels for people and things at a very early age. Labeling helps them recognize people and objects individually and helps them decide how detailed their understanding of the object or face needs to be." Details of Scott's research, conducted with U Mass-Amherst psychological and brain science doctoral students Hillary Hadley and Charisse Pickron, were published online on November 29, 2014 in Developmental Science. Dr. Scott's own earlier experiments, as well as work by others, shows that before they are six months old, babies can easily tell faces apart within familiar (e.g., human faces) and unfamiliar (e.g, monkey faces) groups. But by nine months, they are no longer as good at distinguishing faces outside their own species compared to faces from their own species. This decline in recognizing unfamiliar individuals is called "perceptual narrowing" and is driven by the infants' experience interacting with some groups more than others and learning the names of individuals in some groups more than others during the six- to nine-month window, the neuroscience researchers say.
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