The Eyes Have It


This paper runs some great articles on a wide variety of topics: nature, science, human interest, history, progress, and of course farm life. When I find time to read any newspaper, which isn’t as often as I’d like, I can always find something worthwhile in the Farm and Dairy.
In a recent issue, I was attracted by two pictures on opposite pages that, at first, I thought were misprinted. They showed a baby on its mother’s lap looking across a table at a young woman who is turned toward the camera. At first, I thought we’d run the same picture on both pages until, on second look, I saw that the baby had looked toward the camera, too, in the second picture.
These pictures were really worth their thousand words; they made me read the article: Learning and language with babies, it’s all in their eyes. It described research that is being done in developmental psychology at the University of Washington. Rechele Brooks, the young woman in the picture, and a colleague have been studying infant behavior showing a baby’s ability to follow the gaze of an adult is a first step in their understanding of language.
The study “found that infants who are advanced in gaze-following behavior before their first birthday understand nearly twice as many words when they are 18 months.”
Babies who followed the eyes of the researchers to an object and made simple vocal sounds at 10 months understood more words later at 18 months than other babies. Brooks explains, “… some children are looking and making a sound simultaneously. To do this a baby has to master an important social regularity: follow Mom’s eyes and you can discover what she is talking about.”
The study concluded that when this integrated mastery occurs (between 10 and 11 months) a “language explosion” follows.
“Duh,” I’m thinking! Isn’t that typical of the passive attitude that society is taking.
They are basing language research simply on gaze-following. What happened to taking an active part in a child’s language development?
I recalled my own daughters and other children I’ve taken care of sitting on my lap, watching my finger as I pointed toward pictures and named objects. A flood of images ran through my mind of babies (younger than 10 months) sitting on laps, looking at picture books.
I thought generations had done this. And why? So children associate words with objects and, in turn, learn language. The study made it sound like a real break-through in noting this first association with objects and the development of speech.
I must have missed something. Isn’t this the very thing that has set us apart from
other monkey-like species since we began? I thought science had, long ago, been there and done that.

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