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PostPosted: 15 Aug 2018 18:27 
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A study has shown that the brain structure of young children changes when they are regularly engaged in back-and-forth conversations with adults. The research suggests that parents should concentrate on having conversations with their children and that talking at a youngster or sitting them down in front of the TV is no substitute.

It has been thought that a child’s exposure to language could predict their linguistic and cognitive skills and later academic achievements. However, little research has been done about how talking to a child might cause variety in brain structure.

A study led by Rachel Romeo, of Harvard University, looked at 40 children aged between four and six. It suggested that those who were often engaged in conversation by adults had stronger connections between two regions of the brain that are believed to be critical for the comprehension and production of speech — Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area. MRI images showed the development of white matter between those regions, which researchers said could be thought of as an information conduit inside the brain.

The effect was found to be independent of a child’s socioeconomic status and the amount of speech that took place in their home.

“No matter the child’s background, the amount of conversation was the key thing,” said Ms Romeo, who is a PhD candidate in speech and hearing bioscience and technology.

Her study included children whose parents’ household incomes ranged from $6,000 a year to $250,000 a year. It suggests that the findings could be used to formulate better strategies for supporting children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

A landmark study in 1995 found that by the time they reached school age, children growing up in better-off families had been exposed to 30 million more words than children in households lower on the socioeconomic ladder. Subsequent studies have suggested that other factors are also important, including the diversity of vocabulary and grammatical complexity.

The research is published in the Journal of Neuroscience - Report by Rhys Blakely, Science Correspondent of The Times

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