Study: Reading to babies creates lasting language benefits

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At a lab in the University of Florida Psychology building, 9-month-old baby Charlotte is giving us a look into her mind.

Her mother is placing a special cap on her head with 128 sensors on it.

"All we do is record the brain activity that’s naturally emitted from the scalp, so it's just like recording a voice into a tape recorder or an iPhone," says professor and researcher Lisa Scott. "It’s a great tool for us because babies aren't very good at telling us what they know."

Scott analyzes the data to benefit parents during story time at home.

She wants parents to be aware that the kinds of books they are reading actually make a difference.

The major finding in her research is that infants learn more about photos, or objects, that have actual names. For example, a book with a photo of a cow named Charlotte the Cow is better than a book with just the word cow.

"They seem to be learning more, they seem to be attending more to the pictures when they come back, they're more interested in the pictures," explains Scott.

She says the research sends a message to parents: Don't underestimate your baby's mind.

Have a conversation with them while reading.

"You can go on and elaborate in the story. A lot of parents are surprised at how much language their babies know and how much they learn from reading a book," Scott says.  

She's peeking into the youngest minds to unleash their greatest learning potential.

"This time of their life is building a foundation for later learning," she said.

In one study, Scott's team brought back 4 and 5-year-olds who participated in the research as infants. They found those kids still showed benefits compared to others who did not participate.