New research links talking to babies with their IQ and verbal abilities 10 years later

By: Steve Hannon, president, LENA

LENA president Steve Hannon
LENA president Steve Hannon

We’re excited to share the results of a newly-published longitudinal study that researchers here at LENA have been working on for more than 10 years. The findings confirm that the amount of talk with adults that babies experience in the first three years of life is related to their verbal abilities and IQ in adolescence. Two-way conversations in the 18- to 24-month age range may be particularly important.

The paper, “Language Experience in the Second Year of Life and Language Outcomes in Late Childhood,” was published in the October 2018 edition of Pediatrics. Its conclusions affirm exactly the kind of work Reach Out and Read (ROR) is doing to educate families about the importance of early interaction and providing them with the tools to build early literacy.

“By showing that parent-child verbal interactions in early childhood predict critically important outcomes through age 14 years (∼10 years later), the authors of this study have made a major contribution to this topic, with strong implications for American Academy of Pediatrics policy and clinical practice recommendations,” Drs. Perri Klass, ROR’s medical director, and Dr. Alan L. Mendelsohn, ROR’s principal investigator, wrote in commentary for Pediatrics.

LENA photo of mom and baby and young boy in school

While it may seem intuitive that adults should talk with children, many people don’t realize just how important conversations actually are.   

For example, two other studies this year from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that the amount of conversation children experience is related to changes in their brain structure and function. Additionally, other studies have indicated that language exposure is related to children’s brain processing speed, subsequent vocabulary acquisition and success transitioning to kindergarten.

Research also tells us that adults who talk with children the least tend to overestimate the most. That’s why LENA technology, which provides objective feedback, is a helpful tool. In the same way a pedometer provides objective feedback on how many steps you take each day, LENA helps caregivers get an accurate understanding of children’s language environments and identifies specific areas for growth.

To truly improve outcomes for children and make progress toward closing opportunity gaps, we must capitalize on the power of conversation to build babies’ brains.

If you’re interested in learning more about this important research, sign up to view a discussion with the lead researchers moderated by policy expert Shannon Rudisill. Click here for more information and to register.