Infants As Young As 4 1/2 Months Recognize Their Name, Study Finds

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: June 10, 1994 This content is archived.


BOSTON -- Infants as young as 4 1/2 months can recognize their own names, even picking them out from similar-sounding names, University at Buffalo psychologists have found.

Research presented today (Friday, June 10) at the Acoustical Society of America meeting by UB doctoral student Denise Mandel; Peter W. Jusczyk, UB professor of psychology, and David Pisoni of the Indiana University Department of Psychology suggests that in the first few months of life, infants begin to build a vocabulary in their native language.

In the study, 24 infants sat on their parent's laps in a three-sided booth. Four names, including each child's own name, were played through loudspeakers on both sides of the booth. The infants were scored on the length of time they looked in the direction of the loudspeakers. They had to make a head turn of at least 30 degrees in order to be scored.

Two of the names the infants heard were quite different from their own name, but the third name had the same rhythm and intonation as the infant's name. For example, an infant named "Corey" might hear "Henry" as a name with a similar rhythm and intonation, and "Marie" and "Elaine" as names with different rhythm and intonation.

The researchers found that the infants listened significantly longer to repetitions of their own names than to any of the other names.

This finding has important implications for children's early vocabulary, Mandel says. "With their name being one of the first sound patterns infants recognize, it may influence other types of sounds they begin to pick up," she says.

Earlier studies by Jusczyk -- published in the Journal of Memory and Language and Child Development -- indicate that infants as young as 6 months start developing a sensitivity to the prosodic qualities of language -- such as stress, intonation and rhythm -- before they develop a sensitivity to the phonetic qualities.

Moreover, infants' reliance on the prosodic cues of language help them segment the continuous speech they hear around them into individual words and becomes the basis for developing a lexicon, Jusczyk's research has found.