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More conversations equal more brain growth, scientists say

Posted: 7:22 AM, Oct 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-08 08:22:31-04

BOSTON — It’s been called the 30-million-word gap. Researchers have found that children from lower-income backgrounds tend to be exposed to fewer words than their higher-income peers. Now scientists are researching how kids’ brains respond to words and what families can do to help language development.

Don’t you wonder sometimes what’s going on inside your little one’s head? Developmental cognitive neuroscientist Rachel Romeo, PhD, can show you. Romeo and her colleagues at MIT study the way young children's brains respond to language.

Romeo had children lie in an MRI scanner and listen to stories while the machine recorded images of their brain.

Researchers also had kids wear recording devices to measure words and conversations at home. They found it wasn’t the number of words that resulted in positive brain development and higher verbal knowledge, but the amount of back-and-forth conversation.

“You can be a low-income family and hear lots and lots of conversations and your brain development will be right on par with the higher income family,” Romeo told Ivanhoe.

Romeo said caregivers should find ways to have these frequent back-and-forth interactions with their children.

Romeo said parents, “Can make faces and blow raspberries at infants. Ask toddlers questions about their day.”

Lisa Kingsley said she started at birth for her youngest, Caroline.

“Whenever I heard purposeful noise I would stop and pretend to respond as if I had any idea what she was talking about,” detailed Lisa.

Romeo said the study findings suggest early intervention programs that encourage parents to talk interactively with their children may be able to take advantage of the plasticity of the brain, helping to bridge the word gap.