Active conversations with adults do more to boost young children’s language development than simply being exposed to more words, according to a new neuroscience study in the journal Psychological Science.
Researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used functional MRI, or fMRI, to record brain activity in children as they listened to recorded stories. For two days before the story session, the children’s parents recorded everything spoken to or around the children, and the researchers analyzed the resulting data to determine the total words spoken by and to each child, as well as the number of conversational back-and-forth “turns” each child took with adults.
The researchers found children who had participated in more back-and-forth conversations showed greater brain activity during the reading session in the Broca’s area, a brain region associated with language processing. That difference held even after researchers controlled for the children’s IQ, socioeconomic levels, and total vocabulary exposure or use.
A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2018 edition of Education Week as Reading