is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Fritzi Bodenheimer.
I'm Bob Doughty. On our program this
week, we discuss scientific
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 Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is a federal
government agency. Its goal is to
identify which experiences can influence healthy development in people.
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 people.
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
A study last month from
the Netherlands found evidence that unborn babies can remember sounds. Dutch researchers studied almost one hundred
pregnant women. They played sounds to
the growing fetus and watched its movements with ultrasound devices. They found that by thirty weeks of
development the fetus could remember a sound for ten minutes. By the thirty-fourth week, the fetus could
remember the sound for four weeks.
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.
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.
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 heard.
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.
researchers studied almost 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 fewer than two thousand grams.
The boys and girls had an average age of
sixteen 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.
study found that the young people with low birth weight often had more problems
with movement skills than others. These 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.
say the first three years of a child's life is the most intensive period of
language and speech development. 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.
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.
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
long-term American study shows the effect of early education on future learning
abilities. The study followed more than
one thousand three hundred children from birth through the ages of ten or
eleven. It found that children who
received higher quality care before starting school had better language skills
by those ages than children who had lower quality care.
The study is known as the National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth
Development. It is said to be the
largest, longest lasting and most complete study of child care in the United
children included in the study were born around nineteen ninety-one in ten
areas of the country. Researchers
examined the quality and amount of child care the children received until they
were four and one-half years old. Child
care included any care provided by people other than the child's mother that
lasted at least ten hours a week. This
included any care given by fathers or other family members.
The researchers then examined each
child's performance in school and social development. They also measured other influences, such as
the quality of classroom education and parenting.
researchers examined whether the developmental qualities that had been observed
in young children were still present a few years later. They found that the older children who had
received higher quality child care continued to show better ability in tests of
Researchers tested the children's
ability to name objects shown in a series of pictures. The study confirmed that a link between high
quality child care and better test results continued as the children grew
older. It also found that the children's
ability was not dependent on the amount of time they had spent in child care.
New studies looking into different
influences on babies' intelligence are published each year. One such report was published earlier this
year in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers found that women's use of a
medicine to treat the disease epilepsy during pregnancy may cause lowered
intelligence in their children. Intelligence tests at age three showed up to a nine point difference in
the children of mothers who took the drug valproate. As a result, the researchers suggest women of
childbearing age should use other medicines for epilepsy.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written and produced by Brianna Blake. I'm Fritzi Bodenheimer.
And I'm Bob Doughty. You can find transcripts, MP3s and
podcasts of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for more news about
science in Special English on the Voice of America.