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Baby babble may be linked to hearing ability

"by " Albert Stein

It's easy to assume that in an age where smartphones can answer just about any query you type into them, we'd have a profound understanding of our hearing.

In fact, while researchers have made incredible discoveries in the past few decades, we are still learning about our own hearing. 

A recent study from the University of Missouri at Columbia, has highlighted this fact. By looking at the difference between deaf infants and babies without hearing loss, researchers were able to obtain a better understanding of hearing ability*. 

Mary Fagan, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders in the MU School of Health Professions, said that hearing is a vital part of a baby's motivation to start making his or her own sounds*. 

She and her team found this by studying the vocalisations of 27 hearing infants and 16 infants with profound hearing loss. Babies with profound hearing loss were significantly less vocal that the former group, they found, but when the hearing-impaired babies were given cochlear implants, they quickly began to vocalise at the same level*.

Basically, if babies are able to hear their own coos and babbles, they are more likely to engage in this chatter. This is highly valuable as children grow, as it helps keep them on track for language development. This is why early testing and intervention with devices such as cochlear implants are so important.

One interesting finding of note is that the hearing-impaired babies would make just as much noise crying, laughing and making raspberry sounds as hearing babies. Mary Fagan suggests that this is because babies are "more interested in speech-like sounds since they increase their production of those sounds such as babbling when they can hear". 

As we continue to understand more about hearing health, audiologists and clinicians may be better placed to not just treat hearing loss, but help prevent it as well.

*Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Frequency of vocalization before and after cochlear implantation: dynamic effect of auditory feedback on infant behavior. Published 2014 July. Can be found here.