Why We Use “Baby Talk”

If you have ever seen and talked to a baby, you probably noticed yourself doing something very strange. Instantly, you start to talk in a different tone of voice while saying weird stuff you otherwise would never. But why do we suddenly change the way we talk when talking to an infant?

The kind of talking I just described is colloquially known as ‘motherese’ or more formally as infant directed speech (IDS), and it differs significantly from adult directed speech (ADS).

IDS has been reported in every known language tested to date. It has basic sound features that make it unique: a higher fundamental frequency (basic pitch levels), more intense and exaggerated contours and slides, and more repetitive and rhythmical elements.

But why do we speak this way to babies?

It has been found that IDS is crucial to both babies and adults for different reasons.

Babies prefer to listen to IDS compared to ADS almost as soon as they are born, irrespective of whether it’s spoken by a man or woman. This preference for IDS has even been found in infants born to deaf parents. IDS provides a reliable way for adults all over the world to trigger positive reciprocal response from their young. It’s a method by which we can attract their attention and potentially modify their behaviour, at a developing stage when verbally reasoning with a baby is tempting but largely pointless.

Another main advantage of IDS for adult is that we get a smile. When we speak to a baby in musical tones, we often get positive feedback that is, frankly, adorable.

This happy response has the benefit that the baby is not crying. Scientific evidence shows that parents experience a release of stress hormones in the brain on hearing a baby crying.

As much as a baby’s cry can be distressing, once upon a time it was downright dangerous. A screaming baby would have been no good to our ancestors if they were trying to hide from predators or allow their community to get valuable rest in order to restore energy levels.

As such it’s an extremely useful survival skill to be able to create a state of calm in a baby by low-energy methods that require only our voices.

In modern times this calming technique remains useful in situations where the baby’s natural response is not necessarily productive or desirable, such as when they must have a vaccination or try new food.

The first obvious benefit of IDS is that babies can respond to adults using these sounds. They can’t talk to us yet but they can produce coos, pitch glides, and rhythmic responses. When we interact with babies they mimic our IDS, and in doing so the baby guarantees a safe and nurturing environment.

One of the oldest functions of musical IDS was probably able to communicate emotional state. IDS exaggerates the features of our own emotional speech, such as high-pitched, fast sounds when we are happy and low-pitched, slow sounds when we are sad. Not only do caregivers use these features of IDS to communicate emotional information to babies, they also use them to modify a baby’s emotional state.

Another research concluded that IDS contains musical features that can help babies to learn about different vowel types long before they are able to make use of this information. Our musical speech may therefore help our young to build the foundation of their language learning.

Source: You Are The Music by Victoria Williamson



How Music Changes the Brain

Plasticity is one of the best tricks that our brain possesses; the ability to reorganize pathways and synapses in response to envoirmental pressures and biological needs. In short: it helps us learn. This ability lasts throughout your entire life. That means that we are never too old to learn and for the brain to change- and learning to play an instrument or sing is a powerful way to stimulate the mind.
How much can music change the way that your brain looks and works? There is little evidence so far that just listening to lots of music causes any significant changes to the brain structure or function. By contrast, there is a long history of exploring the changes that may occur as a result of musical training.In the early 20th century a German surgeon names Sigmund Auerbach conducted a series of post-mortem brain dissections on five famous musicians of that time. Dr. Auerbach wanted to see where and how their brains were different to the average one that he saw every day on his operating table. Auerbach concluded that all five individuals had enlargements in the middle and back areas of the superior temporal gyrus (the areas in the brain that processes sounds). All in all, the brain differences he saw were not extensive, but remember we are talking about things that could be seen with the human eye and a magnifying glass. LOBES2
Fortunately, the development of brain imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the 20th century made it possible to obtain thee dimensional, high resolution images of the living brain instead of having to wait around for famous musicians to pass away.

One of the earliest (1995) brain imaging studies conducted by Gottfried Schlaug and colleagues reported that the corpus calossum (a series of neutral fibre connections that holds the two hemispheres of your brain together) was significantly larger in 30 professional right handed keyboard and string musicians compared to 30 non-musically trained individuals. Moreover, the difference was driven mostly by people who started their musical training before the age of seven. The conclusion ws that the need for complex bimanual coordination when playing keyboard or string instruments necessitates growth in the brain area that facilitated communication between the hands.
Not only is the corpus callosum bigger in some professional musicians, it also has a different way of working. You get faster transfer of all kinds of information (including visual) between the hemispheres in musicians compared to non-musicians.

The corpus callosum is not the only point of connectivity in the brain. The whole structure is covered in white matter pathways whose job it is to transfer signals between different parts of the brain.
A large study of professional pianists carried out at University College of London found several areas of the brain where white matter fibres were denser, better aligned and with a more effective protective layer that counts the outside of the neurons. This finding was associated with practice; the more someone practiced, the denser the white matter. This finding hints at improvement connectivity in a number of important brain regions outside the corpus callossum in musicians.

The enhanced connectivity effect is not limited to instrumental learning either. A study conducted by Gus Halwani and colleagues tested the integrity of a particular large white matter pathway (or ‘tract’) known as the arcuate fascisculus (AF). The AF connects the temporal and frontal lobes and is a very important pathway for carrying information about sound. We have two AF tracts, one in the right hemisphere and one in the left. Hallway and his team measured the volume and the density of the fibres in the AF tracts in both hemispheres in non-musicians, instrumental musicians and vocal musicians. The AF tract was larger end denser in musicians compared to non-musicians. Interestingly, in the left hemisphere, parts of the AF were bigger in singers compared to instrumentalists but were also less dense, meaning the fibres in the AF at these point were to be more criss-crossed or branching.
Why the difference in the left and right AF in the singers? The theory is that the left side of the brain may be more focussed on the demands of producing speech while the right side is more interested in all types of sound more generally.

The great point about this study is that it hints that you may get a boost effect in brain connectivity from singing, which is something that we can all attempt in our everyday lives without the need for an instrument.

source: You are the music by Victoria Williamsonjaneedit

Does Listening To Mozart Make You Smarter?

Some parents play Mozart CDs to their kids, hoping that it will boost the child’s intelligence. But will it? Many people have heard of the so-called Mozart effect, but where does it actually come from, and most importantly, is it true?

It all started innocently enough in 1993, with a one-page paper in the journal Nature by Frances Rauscher and colleagues. They conducted an experiment where US college students were played ten minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for two Pianos in D major, or listened to relaxation instructions or sat in silence. The researcher then asked the students to complete a test of spatial-temporal reasoning. This type of task (paper-folding, matrices, or pattern analysis) requires you to think in your mind’s eye about shapes and how they might fit together. The researchers found a significantly higher score on the test only after listening to the Mozart piece, which translated to a boost of between eight and nine IQ points.

The researchers went on to replicate their findings but found no similar boost effects after ten minutes of music by Philip Glass, British trance music, relaxation instructions or an audio book. The Mozart effect seemed like a very exciting and important finding that might suggest a particular type of music has a positive effect on our ability to think.

How might this effect work? Rauscher and her colleagues speculated that hearing Mozart’s music might strengthen neural firing in an area of the brain that also supports performance on spatial-temporal tasks.
It all seemed to good to be true: a simple solution (listen to music) to a complex problem (boost mental power). Sure enough it was not all what it appeared.

The first issue is the temporary nature of te effect. To be fair, the original authors stated that the effect only lasts about ten minutes so we were never talking about any permanent boost to thinking. The problem is that in wider pop science culture you often lose an important bit of information like this form the original research, which in fact points to a key limitation with the effect.
A second issue with the effect is its specificity. In a subsequent article the original authors suggested that a researcher needed to use exactly their experimental conditions in order to have a hope of getting an effect. This limitation suggest that the effect is not a very general one.
On top of all of this, more recent studies have shown that you can get a similar boost effect if you play Shubert’s piano music, when people prefer Shubert to Mozart. You can also get the boost effect when you read people of a bit of Stephen King, if they enjoy his writing. Following such results researchers have proposed that the Mozart effect  actually relies on a temporary improvement to our mood and arousal states (how awake we feel), which then has a positive effect on our task performance.
The final big issue with the Mozart effect is the failure to replicate. The number of studies that have failed to replicate this effect now outweigh those that have worked. Even when they followed the original paradigm step by step, it still often didn’t work.

Taking all the evidence from the Mozart effect into account over the years, it is now largely accepted that simple passive (listening) exposure to music does not boost IQ, cognitive function, or reasoning ability in the long-term, and that any temporary small boosts to task performance are due to a concurrent increase in mood and arousal.

So by all means, buy a child a Mozart CD if they like listening to his music, enjoy twirling and swaying to the sounds, find it relaxing as part of a sleep routine, or perhaps soothing in times of illness. The lesson from the research in this area is that we must not expect a child’s IQ to grow in response to hearing music as if we were feeding fertiliser to a rose.

Source: You Are The Music by Victoria Williamsonjaneedit

Babies Cry In Their Native Language

Brigit Mampe and Colleagues analyzed the crying patterns of 30 French and 30 German newborns.
They studies the ups and downs of their natural cries and it turns out that French babies produce more rising pitches, whereas German babies cry more with falling contours.
The same patterns were revealed in intensity: volume went from low to high in French babies while the reverse was found in German babies. This difference between a rising and falling sound mirrors the speech contours used by native adult speakers of French and German.

The study by Brigit Mampe suggests that babies can not only perceive and remember the musical patterns of the speech they hear in utero but that they also mimic these familiar patterns when making their first cries.
This is probably the earliest evidence of impact of our native language on our vocalisations – and it’s the musical features of communication that are the first to develop.

Source: You Are The Music by Victoria Williamson


Get The Most Out of the Night (TIPS)

If you want to feel sleepy when you head to bed…
Banish the blues: Avoid computer screens, TV’s and smartphones or try wearing glasses with amber-tinted lenses for 2 or 3 hours before you go to bed. These will block the blue light that stimulates your brain and make you feel especially sleepy.

If you want to feel especially refreshed in the morning…
The 90-minute rule: Decide when you want to wake up, and then count back in 90 blocks (the length of a sleep cycle) to discover the best time to head to bed. You can also find special calculator on the internet for this if you are bad at math.

If you want to fall asleep quickly…
Use positive imagery and the paradox principle: first, imagine yourself in a very pleasant scenario. Make the scenario as detailed as possible, but avoid anything that’s too exciting, perhaps planning your dream holiday or thinking about your perfect evening out. If that doesn’t work, try to stay awake. As strange as it sounds, forcing yourself to actually remain awake is one of the best ways of nodding off.

If you lie in bed feeling worried…
The list: if you have a lot o your mind, make a list of all of the things that you have to do the next day. If you are worrying about something specific, jot that down too and try to allow the thought to drift through your mind, rather than focussing on it.

If you wake up in the middle of the night…
The jigsaw method: you might be experiencing a perfectly natural phenomenon known as ‘segmented sleep’, where people sleep in two long blocks, with a gap of roughly 30 minutes between them. However, if you lie awake for more than 20 minutes, get up an do something non-stimulating for a few minutes, such as working on a jigsaw puzzle.

If you want to learn in your sleep…
The real secret of sleep-learning: Sleep glues memories into your mind, so don’t stay up late trying to cram information into your brain. Instead, study during the day, remind yourself about key points just before you nod off, and get lots of sleep at night.

If you want to boost your brainpower during the day…
Neuro-napping: Taking a catnap will help you to become more alert, creative an productive. Neuro-napping involves listening to music when you are studying or brainstorming, and then playing the same music when you nap. Napping can boots memory and creativity around 60 %.

If you are experiencing a recurring nightmare, or bad dream…
Imagery rehearsal therapy: Spend some time during the day describing your nightmare, creating a different ending for this episode, and then imagining this new and improved ending. Studies show that this simple technique stops nightmares 90% of the time.

If you want to gain an insight into your concerns and worries…
Dream work: Describe a striking dream in detail, look for ways in which it applies to your life, and then use this as the basis for change. Research shows that around 80% of people find that this yields an important insight into their concerns.

If you want to achieve a goal…
The power of pre-sleep suggestion: Just before you fall asleep, imagine doing whatever you need to do to achieve your goal. For example, if you want to go to the gym more frequently, imagine yourself putting on your trainers and heading out the house. As you drift asleep, tell yourself that you want these images to crop up in your dreams.

Source: Night School by Richard Wisemanjaneedit

12 Sleep Myths

When I am asleep, my brain switches off
When you fall asleep, your sense of self-awareness shuts down, and so it may feel as if you have become inactive. In fact, your brain remains highly active during sleep, and carries out several tasks that are essential for your well being.

I can learn to function well on less sleep
Sleep is a biological need, and it simply isn’t possible to cut corners. OF course, you can force yourself to sleep less, but you will not be fully rested, and the way in which you think, feel and behave will be impaired.

Napping is a sign of laziness
Your circadian rhythm makes you feel sleepy throughout the night and for a much shorter period of time toward the middle of the afternoon. Napping is entirely natural, and helps make you more alert, focused, creative and productive.

Snoring is annoying, but harmless
Snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnoea. This serious medical condition causes you to experience hundreds of mini-awakenings throughout the night, and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, obesity and cancer.

I know when I am getting sleepy
People are very poor judges of how tired they are. As a result they often drive when they are drowsy, and struggle through the day not realizing that they are far from their best.

Dreams consist of meaningless thoughts and images
When you dream, your brain is often attempting to work through your concerns. As a result, your dreams can provide a useful insight into your worries, and also help come up with innovative solutions to these issues.

You can easily master a foreign language in your sleep by putting on a CD
In the many experiments that have been carried out, there has never been one with any hard, clear proof that this is an actual thing.

Sleep is for wimps, and productive people spend less time in bed
If you don’t get enough sleep the you’ll struggle to concentrate, become accident-prone, lack willpower, and become less productive. Worse still, you will increase your chances of becoming overweight, having a heart attack, and dying early.

I don’t have problem getting enough sleep, and so there’s no need to try an improve things
A small percentage of people are super-sleepers. They enjoy a good night’s sleep almost every night, can fall asleep whenever they want, and have sweet dreams. Compared to most, they are happier, healthier, and wealthier. Even if your sleep is OK, you can still improve by becoming a super sleeper.

A Small amount of alcohol use before bedtime improves sleep
Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it also results in far more disturbed night. Even a small triple results in you spending less time in restorative deep sleep, having fewer dreams, and being more likely to snore.

I can catch up on my lost sleep at the weekend
When you fail to get enough sleep you develop a sleep debt. Spending more time in bed for a day will help ease this problem, but won’t fully restore you for the coming week. Over time this lifestyle results in many of the problems associated with sleep deprivation.

Teenagers who spend lots of time in bed are just being lazy
When we hit our adolescence our circadian rhythms become delayed by 3 hours, causing us to become more ‘evening types’ . In addition, teenagers require between nine and ten hours sleep each night. They are not being lazy, it is just biology at work.

Source: Night School by Richard Wisemanjaneedit

How to Prevent a Jet Lag (TIPS)

Before you go on a trip, try and shift your clock a bit when you are still home. When flying from to the west, get up slightly later every day. When flying to the east, get up slightly earlier.

If possible, book flights that will minimize your jet lag by following the simple adage: ‘Fly east, fly early. Fly west, fly late.

If you need to sleep during the trip, try to avoid sitting on the sunny side of the plane. For flights in the northern hemisphere, the sun will tend to be on the left side of the plane when you fly west, and on the right side when you go east.

As soon as you board the plane, adjust your watch to show the time at your destination, and try to fit into this new time schedule as soon as possible. If it is time to sleep, try and close your eyes for a while. If it is dinner time, eat something (even a light snack is okay).

Some people believe that melatonin supplements can help control your sleeping patterns and thus help you adjust to new time zones. Research suggests that daily doses of melatonin can help alleviate jet lag, and short-term usage seems to have few negative side effects. Consult your doctor before taking any medication.

When you arrive at your destination, adjust your circadian rhythm by using the following simple rules of thumb:

-If you have travelled east, avoid the morning sun and seek out natural light in the afternoon.
-If you have travelled west, seek out light  throughout the entire day.

If you really cannot keep your eyes open during the day, take a quick nap, but set your alarm to make sure that it is no longer than two hours.

Source: Night School by Richard Wiseman