Mothers And Fathers Interact With Their Infants Differently

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

New mothers are often willing to engage their newborn in all manner of sounds, gurgles and baby talk. Meanwhile, dads can be a little reluctant to engage in baby talk without their partner around, according to a new study.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study also found that even when new fathers were accompanied by their female partner, they spoke three times less than the mother.

“We have our work to do in getting dads into this loop and telling them how important they are in terms of infant development,” study author Dr. Betty Vohr, a director of the neonatal clinic at Women & Infants Hospital’s in Rhode Island, told USA Today.

In the study, researchers used a small audio documenting system called LENA, which they connected to the babies on a vest for 16 hours. The researchers examined all of the spoken interactions between a group of 33 full-term or later babies and their parents. Initial recordings took place immediately after they were born, while the infants remained in the hospital. Other recording sessions were then held a few weeks later and seven months after birth. The final two sessions were recorded on days when both the babies’ mother and father were at the residence, according to USA Today’s Kim Painter.

Based on over 3,000 hours of recordings, the scientists were able to obtain a good picture of the babies’ verbal environment, reports Alice Park for Time Magazine. The study team said their outcome was both expected and shocking at the same time.

When toddlers made noise, moms were actually more prone to respond to them verbally than dads were. While moms responded to their child 88 percent to 94 percent of the time, dads replied only 27 percent to 33 percent of the time.

The researchers also found gender-based variations. When the team contrasted mothers of girls to mothers of boys, mothers of girls replied more often to their babies’ sounds than did the mothers of boys to their child. The same pattern also took place for dads; with those who had boys tending to react more often to their infants than those fathers who had girls.

“We’re not certain why that is, but the important thing here is knowing that of critical importance in early language development is the need to encourage both parents,” Vohr told Park. “The more we learn about it, the more we can inform parents of the power they have in just talking and interacting with their infants to improve the long term outcomes for their child and their school readiness.”

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In a separate study published this week, researchers from Florida State University found that parents reading bedtime stories or otherwise interacting with their child has no effect on intelligence later in life.

That study, published in the journal Intelligence, looked at a sample population of youths compared to a sample of adopted children from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

“In previous research, it looks as though parenting is having an effect on child intelligence, but in reality the parents who are more intelligent are doing these things and it is masking the genetic transformation of intelligence to their children,” said study author Kevin Beaver, a Florida State University criminology professor.

The Florida State professor noted that the result of his study wasn’t to be taken as an endorsement of parental neglect.

“(T)he way you parent a child is not going to have a detectable effect on their IQ as long as that parenting is within normal bounds,” he said.


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