Baby talk is similar all over the world

A whopping 95 per cent of developmental science is based on only five cent of the world’s population

There are vast differences in early child-rearing environments across cultures. For example, the popular French documentary Babies, which documents the life of infants in five different cultures, depicts the multitude of ways infants can be raised across different ecological and cultural contexts.

These differences illustrate the reality of infants growing up in distinct contexts. Anthropologists have been documenting such variability for decades producing detailed ethnographies of parenting, family life and socialization practices across different cultural settings. Developmental psychologists have found that these early experiences shape human development.

Yet despite these fascinating differences, a whopping 95 per cent of developmental science is based on only five cent of the world’s population.

The majority of developmental psychology studies are based on WEIRD societies: western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic populations. Given this imbalance, one might wonder whether our knowledge of child development extends beyond urban, North American societies. The answer is, it depends.

In my research, I spend time with mothers, fathers, grandparents and babies to look at the ways in which they communicate, interact, teach and learn from one another. I am an associate professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. I was trained by both a developmental scientist (Philippe Rochat at Emory University) and a bio-cultural anthropologist (Joseph Henrich at Harvard University).

I use my training in developmental methods to explore questions surrounding early experience and development across cultures. I have been fortunate to be welcomed into the homes of families in different corners of the globe.

Attachment parenting

For the past six years, I have been working primarily in one community in Vanuatu. Vanuatu is a group of islands, a three-hour flight from Brisbane, Australia.

Vanuatu was colonized by both the French and English. I have been working in a community on Tanna, Vanuatu. Historically, nearly half of the population on Tanna island has rejected colonization and all that it imposed: western education, languages and forms of religion. Therefore, Tanna has provided an interesting and remarkable forum for looking at socialization goals and developmental outcomes. Tanna is considered somewhat of a natural experiment for examining the impact of variation in socialization on development.

For example, Heidi Keller, professor of psychology at Universitat Osnabrück in Germany has recently suggested that one of the foundational human development theories, attachment theory, is western-biased and in need of revision. Attachment theory suggests that the bond (the first relationship) between a child and her caregiver is the foundational human relationship upon which all other relationships are built. Keller suggests, however, that our understanding of human development is based on child development as it occurs within the western context.

In our work, we examine caregivers and their infants in different societies, to determine the essential elements of child development.

What is common across cultures and what is different? Which theories need reformulation and which ones hold steady despite cultural differences?

Eye-tracking technology

In a recent study, my colleague Mikolaj Hernik and I used eye-tracking technology to compare the ways babies and caregivers communicate on Tanna. In this study, we showed babies short video clips with audio recordings of adults speaking in different ways: regular adult-directed speech and baby talk (or, infant-directed speech), and we observed and analyzed the way the babies responded.

We found that infants shifted their attention following the infant-directed speech, but not the adult-directed speech.

This suggests that infants on Tanna are using communication cues in strikingly similar ways to infants in other regions of the world.

This research, alongside other work examining infant development, suggests that parents and babies communicate in remarkably similar ways despite striking variation in cultural practices.

Tanya Broesch, Associate Professor, Simon Fraser University , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

PHOTO: Sylvan Lake business hosts free breakfast for Westerner Days

CWC Energy Services hosted a free pancake breakfast Thursday morning

Community mourns the deaths of two Maskwacis toddlers

Siblings found drowned on family’s property

Water Balance in the Sylvan Lake Watershed

The Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society submits a weekly column about the lake

A Beacon of Hope shines in Sylvan Lake

A fundraiser for the Safe Harbour Society to educate about opioid addiction was held on July 13

Gas prices in Sylvan Lake higher than surrounding area

The gas in town is being sold with a retail margin of about four to seven cents a litre

Feds lowered poverty line, reducing the number of seniors in need: documents

Liberals introduced a poverty line that was below the prior low-income cutoff

Chiefs honour Indigenous leader wrongfully hanged in B.C. 154 years ago today

Chief Joe Alphonse says they want his remains returned to his homeland in B.C.’s Cariboo region

Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate attempted armed robbery

Police seek information about alleged attack and identify suspect

Scrapie, a disease related to mad cow, found in two flocks of sheep in Alberta

Health Canada says there is no known link between scrapie and human health

Alberta oil and gas producer cleanup cost estimates set too low, says coalition

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. facing the largest bill at $11.9 billion to clean up 73,000 wells

Scheer on Trump: It’s ‘offensive’ to question the family background of critics

Trump is being called a racist for saying that the four congresswomen should go back where they came from

Instagram expands Canadian pilot removing ‘like’ counts to more countries

Social media giant plans to roll out the test in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Italy and Ireland

Natural gas producers demand government action in open letter to Kenney

The letter warns that the viability of the natural gas sector is in jeopardy

Remains of missing Edmonton woman discovered outside of North Battleford: RCMP

The 25-year-old Edmonton woman was reported missing on May 12

Most Read