This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. On our program this week, we discuss
recent findings about how intelligence develops in babies.
Not long ago, many people believed that babies only wanted food and to be
kept warm and dry. Some people thought babies were not able to learn things
until they were five or six months old.
Yet doctors in the United States say babies begin learning on their first day
of life. The National Institute of Child Health and Development is a federal
government agency. Its goal is to indentify which experiences can influence
healthy development in human beings.
Research scientists at the institute note that babies are strongly influenced
by their environment. They say a baby will smile if her mother does something
the baby likes. A baby learns to get the best care possible by smiling to please
her mother or other caregiver. This is how babies learn to connect and
communicate with other humans.
The American researchers say this ability to learn exists in a baby even
before birth. They say newborn babies can recognize and understand sounds they
heard while they were still developing inside their mothers.
One study shows that babies can learn before they are born. The researchers
placed a tape recorder on the stomach of a pregnant woman. Then, they played a
recording of a short story.
On the day the baby was born, the researchers tested to find out if he knew
the sounds of the story repeated while inside his mother. They did this by
placing a device in the mouth of the newborn baby.
The baby would hear the story if he moved his mouth one way. If the baby
moved his mouth the other way, he would hear a different story. The researchers
say the baby clearly liked the story he heard before he was born. They say the
baby would move his mouth so he could hear the story again and again.
Many experts say the first years of a child's life are important for all
later development. An American study shows how mothers can strongly influence
social development and language skills in their children.
The study involved more than one thousand two-hundred mothers and children.
Researchers studied the children from the age of one month to three years. They
observed the mothers playing with their children four times during this period.
The researchers attempted to measure the sensitivity of the mothers. The
women were considered sensitive if they supported their children's activities
and did not interfere unnecessarily. They tested the children for thinking and
language development when they were three years old. Also, the researchers
observed the women for signs of depression.
The children of depressed women did not do as well on tests as the children
of women who did not suffer from depression. The children of depressed women did
poorly on tests of language skills and understanding what they hear.
These children also were less cooperative and had more problems dealing with
other people. The researchers noted that the sensitivity of the mothers was
important to the general health of their children. Children did better when
their mothers were caring, even when the women suffered from depression.
Another study suggests that low-birth weight babies with no evidence of
disability may be more likely than other children to have physical and mental
problems. The study results were published last October in the Archives of
Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
American researchers studied nearly five hundred boys and girls. They were
born in, or admitted to, one of three hospitals in New Jersey between nineteen
eighty-four and nineteen eighty-seven. At birth, each child weighed less than
two thousand grams.
The boys and girls had an average age of sixteen years at the time of the
study. They were asked to complete intelligence and motor skill tests in their
homes. Their test results were compared with those of other children their age.
The study found that the young people with low birth weight often had more
problems with motor skills than others. A motor skill is a skill that requires a
living thing to use its skeletal muscles effectively. Motor problems were more
common among males, those with injured nerve tissue in the brain, and those who
had been connected to oxygen supplies for days as a baby.
The most intensive period of language and speech development is during the
first three years of a child's life. This is the time when the brain is
developing. Language and communication skills are believed to develop best in an
environment that is rich with sounds and sights. Also, the child should
repeatedly hear the speech and language of other people.
America's National Institutes of Health says evidence suggests there are
important periods of speech and language development in children. This means the
brain is best able to learn a language during this period. Officials say the
ability to learn a language will be more difficult if these periods pass without
early contact with a language.
The first signs of communication happen during the first few days of life
when a baby learns that crying will bring food and attention. Research shows
that most children recognize the general sounds of their native language by six
months of age. At that time, a baby also usually begins to make sounds. These
sounds become a kind of nonsense speech over time.
By the end of the first year, most children are able to say a few simple
words. But they may not understand the meaning of their words. By eighteen
months of age, most children can say eight to ten words. By two years, most
children are able to form simple statements, or sentences. By ages three, four
and five, the number of words a child can understand quickly increases. It is at
this age that children begin to understand the rules of language.
A long-term American study shows the importance of early education for poor
children. The study is known as the Abecedarian Project. It involved more than
one-hundred young children from poor families in North Carolina.
Half of the children attended an all-day program at a high-quality childcare
center. The center offered educational, health and social programs. Children
took part in games and activities to increase their thinking and language skills
and social and emotional development. The program also included health foods for
The children attended the program from when they were a few weeks old until
the age of five years. The other group of children did not attend the childcare
center. After the age of five, both groups attended public school.
Researchers compared the two groups of children. When they were babies, both
groups had similar results in tests for mental and physical skills. However,
from the age of eighteen months, the children in the educational child care
program did much better in tests.
The researchers tested the children again when they were twelve and fifteen
years old. The tests found that the children who had been in the childcare
center continued to have higher average test results. These children did much
better on tests of reading and mathematics.
A few years ago, organizers of the Abecedarian Project tested the students
again. At the time, each student was twenty-one years old. They were tested for
thinking and educational ability, employment, parenting and social skills.
The researchers found that the young adults who had the early education still
did better in reading and mathematics tests. They were more than two times as
likely to be attending college or to have completed college.
In addition, the children who received early education were older on average,
when their first child was born.
The study offers more evidence that learning during the first months and
years of life is important for all later development.
The researchers of the Abecedarian Project believe their study shows a need
for lawmakers to spend money on public early education. They believe these kinds
of programs could reduce the number of children who do not complete school and
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written and produced by Brianna Blake. I'm Bob
And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for more news about science in
Special English on the Voice of America.