Are you Smarter than a Baby?

I am always intrigued when people research the way babies’ minds work. After all, babies don’t really give much feedback. They aren’t going to fill out evaluation forms or answer questions. Most research has to be structured so that the results can be interpreted by what the baby stares at. It seems that in research settings, babies tend to stare when they know Something is Not Right.

I came across an experiment by Eugenia Costa-Giomi, a professor of music and human learning at the Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin. I liked this experiment because 1.) I got to try it out myself, and 2.) it made me think about reading aloud to babies.

Here’s the experiment. Watch the four following videos in order. You only have to watch a few seconds of each one. They are very repetitive.
Video 1 – Daniela singing
Video 2 – Malena singing
Video 3
Video 4

Did you notice the differences in videos 3 and 4? In video 3, Malena is now singing Daniela’s tune. Maybe you noticed this. Babies did. They stared extra hard when they saw this video. In video 4, Daniela appears to be singing her original tune, but Malena’s voice is dubbed over hers. Babies caught that too. Most adults who have taken the test did not notice the voice substitution, according to Costa-Giomi.

Clearly, babies are highly aware of faces and voices. In fact, in other stages of this research, babies were played audio recordings of different instruments (including singing voices), and while they noticed the difference between the various kinds of instruments they were hearing, babies did not distinguish between individual human singing voices until they saw faces to accompany those voices. Seeing the faces made a big difference to the babies.

So here’s the reading connection I made…of course reading to babies has lots of benefits. It helps with language development. And making a habit of having a pleasant reading time with a baby that’s too small to get up and run away can make it easier to continue that habit when the baby becomes a toddler who has a hard time sitting still. And toddlerhood is a very important time not only to read with children, but to engage them in conversation about what they read, because this gives them an educational head start that stays with them them throughout their school career.

So perhaps, since seeing faces in this musical experiment had such a dramatic effect on the babies’ ability to notice details, maybe letting your baby see your face while you read aloud could also have a powerful and beneficial effect. You’ll never know unless you try! See what happens, and let me know.