Inside a Baby’s Brain: Sound Processing and Language Development

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Gamma wave brain activity predicts later language, cognitive ability

Free lecture by neuroscientist April Benasich

The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University (www.casbs.org) will present a free lecture, Inside a Baby’s Brain: Sound Processing and Language Development, at 4:00 pm on Tuesday, February 25 at CASBS, 75 Alta Road in Stanford, CA as part of its Game-changing Ideas lecture series. The event is free, the setting is intimate, and the reservations will fill up quickly – so an Rsvp is a must.

 

Who hasn’t looked at a baby and wondered, ‘what’s going on in their inner world? What –and how—are they thinking?’  Dr. April Benasich and her colleagues at the Infancy Studies Laboratory, Rutgers University, are taking a close look at how babies process sounds in their rapidly developing brains.  Their findings hold promise for helping at-risk babies and children with language development. 

Dr. Benasich and her team are at the forefront of this research.  They focus on the early neural processes needed for normal cognitive and language development, with specific attention to so-called gamma waves.  Until now, little was known about their role in infants’ brains (in adults, gamma waves bind together thoughts, memories, and perceptions in the brain). 

Their finding:  gamma wave activity between the ages of 16-36 months is predictive of later language ability. Children with higher gamma activity showed higher language and cognitive ability, better attention and inhibitory control, as well as the ability to follow instructions about their behavior, than did children with lower gamma activity.

Using EEG recording (the baby wears a soft bonnet with sensors while playing quietly on Mom’s lap), Benasich and her team took measurements.  In a separate setting, researchers tested for emerging language and cognitive skills. They studied babies from families with average language development and from families with a history of language impairment.

The findings are groundbreaking: Benasich and her team have demonstrated for the first time that the way babies process sound has an impact on their ability to learn language – whether that child is developing normally or is at risk for a language disorder.  More importantly, perhaps, this information could be used to identify and help children at the highest risk of language delay and impairment.

About April Benasich:

A professor of neuroscience, Dr. Benasich directs the Infancy Studies Laboratory at the Center for Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University. She also directs the Carter Center of Neurocognitive Research.  She earned her PhD at New York University, and has done graduate work at Princeton University.

About the CASBS Game-changing Ideas Lecture Series:

In keeping with the Center’s intention to make behavioral sciences better known in the larger world, Benasich’s lecture is one of an occasional series of lectures on game-changing ideas. Scheduled for Tuesday, February 25 at 4:00 p.m., the lecture and Q&A takes place in the idyllic setting of the CASBS property, which overlooks the main campus at Stanford University. A wine-and-cheese reception follows. While the event is free, seating is limited: reservations are encouraged. Link to reserve a seat.

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