Books with named characters could help babies learn faster

The study finds baby brains respond to and focus on characters in a story.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Most parents know the importance of reading to their kids.

A new study is shedding light on just how crucial reading to infants can be, and points out certain types of books can have a bigger impact on early development.

Inside the Brain Cognition and Development Lab at the University of Florida, researchers are getting to see how important reading can be early on in a baby’s life.

Dr. Lisa Scott and her team are using a set of recording sensors to monitor what’s going on inside the minds of young children.

“She has 128 sensors on her head and we can record different brain responses to different pictures that we show her,” said Scott, who is an associate professor of psychology.

The pictures at the center of the study were featured in special books sent home with parents to read to their kids.

One set of books assigned three-dimensional characters individual names, while another set of books left the names out.

“Even though the images are exactly the same, babies from 6 to 9 months old learned more about those images if they have the individual names,” Scott said.

The researchers also used eye-tracking technology, and found the babies focused more on the characters given names.

“When we show them an image on a computer screen we can look at exactly what image they’re looking at and how long they look at these parts,” Scott said.

The study is helping researchers better understand how babies soak up information.

“It’s really important to understand because what happens in the first year of life, Scott said. "We set up systems for language, we set up cognitive development and reasoning and understanding about the world and all those systems are developed in the first year of life."

While books that feature individual characters may be best for kids, Scott also said parents can still make the most of books with no names.

“They can label the characters themselves," Scott said. "If they don’t have names, make them up while you’re talking to your baby.”

It's that same type of interaction that can have huge benefits for toddlers too. Starting early is key.

“We think that book reading is just something that should be part of a daily routine that starts at least by six months," Scott said. "Probably earlier than six months.”

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