Optical imaging discovers secret of baby's first words

November 1, 2008

A new study could explain why "papa" and "mama" are often a baby's first words: The human brain may be hard-wired to recognize certain repetition patterns.

A new study could explain why "papa" and "mama" are often a baby's first words: The human brain may be hard-wired to recognize certain repetition patterns.

University of British Columbia postdoctoral fellow Judit Gervain and a team of researchers from Italy and Chile used optical brain imaging techniques to document brain activities of 22 newborns exposed to record-ings of made-up words. The researchers mixed words that end in repeating syllables-such as "mubaba" and "penana"-with words without repetition-such as "mubage" and "penaku." They found increased activity in the temporal and left frontal areas of the newborns' brains whenever the repetitious words were played. The study appeared in the Aug. 26 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.