What’s going on inside those little baby brains? You can get a lot closer to understanding the minds of these tiny humans with a new book, The Psychology of Babies, written by Lynne Murray, a psychologist specializing in child development at the University of Reading.
For new parents who may be curious to learn more about the minds of their little ones but don’t exactly have the time to meander through a 256-page text Science of Us asked Murray to share a few of her book’s most important takeaways.
1. There’s an upside to having a difficult baby (really!). Murray says infants who cry more easily and are harder to soothe may actually end up being more well-adjusted, with better physical and emotional development, than “easier” babies — that is, if they grow up in a loving, care-taking environment. (These same babies are at greater risk for poorer development if they grow up in a harsher or more neglectful environment, research shows.) These babies are simply more responsive to their surroundings, internalizing and responding to both the good and the bad. So a better word than difficult might just be to think of these infants as sensitive.
2. Read, read, read! One of the best things parents can do is share a book with their baby — and the benefits start earlier than you might expect. “The frequency of book sharing is one of the best predictors of language development and good attention span, even when account is taken of relevant family background factors, like social class or parents’ education,” Murray said (this is backed up by recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics). And while the best way to read a book with a baby is to encourage the child’s active participation, it’s also a good idea to start ‘em young, even before they’re able to engage. “Indeed, it has been shown that the earlier book-sharing is established as a regular pattern … the more the child will want to initiate looking at books and sharing them later on,” Murray writes. The earlier, the better, in other words.
3. "Baby talk" really does work. Speaking in an exaggerated, animated tone seems to happen naturally when you’re talking to a baby, and there may be a developmental explanation for that, Murray says. Babies do seem to learn better when listening to babbly baby talk than regular speech. “If six-month-olds hear new words in ‘baby-talk,’ they will recognize them when repeated a day later, but show no recognition if they heard the same words in adult speech,” she explained. Ga-ga goo-goo away.
The only downside of reading about baby brains: It’s nowhere near as cute as those pictures of babies sitting in brain scanners.