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6-month-old infants may understand related words

Thomas Brunson-Pitts, 6 months, plays inside his home in Washington. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

New research suggests babies as young as six months old understand more about language than was previously believed, per the Atlantic.

In the study, babies were first shown two different pictures at a time, of things like a blanket and a dog. Researchers observed what image the babies looked at after their parents named an image. The babies had a harder time distinguishing the difference between pictures of related things, like nose and mouth, than they did of the unrelated pictures. Per the Atlantic, this difficulty of distinguishing related images shows "that they somehow understand that the concepts are related."

Why it matters: Further developing the findings could help doctors flag when a child has a language delay, which is sometimes an indicator of autism.

A different part of the study included the parents showing an object to the baby while they discussed it. Following this, the babies were able to "look more at the correct objects during the in-lab task," the Atlantic reports. Elika Bergelson, lead author of the study, said this shows that "babies are listening, and you should treat them as conversational partners."

What's next: Bergelson acknowledged that more work needs to be done, considering this study only used 51 children, and they were primarily from "white, middle-class, well-educated families."