Books that Name Specific People and Objects Best for Infant Cognition

Engaging infants in picture books that clearly name and label individual people and objects helps them stay attentive and retain more information, according to a new study published in the journal Child Development.

“When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit,” said study co-author Dr. Lisa Scott, a University of Florida psychology professor. “Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life.”

For the study, Scott and colleagues from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst evaluated infants in Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab. The babies came into the lab twice: once at six months old and again at age nine months. The researchers used eye-tracking and electroencephalogram, or EEG, to measure the infants’ attention and learning at both ages.

In between lab visits, parents read to their babies at home according to a schedule that involved 10 minutes of parent-infant shared book reading every day for the first two weeks, every other day for the second two weeks and then continued to decrease until infants returned at nine months.

Twenty-three families were randomly assigned storybooks. One set contained individual-level names, and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling. Each of the training books’ eight pages presented an individual image and a two-sentence story.

The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled all eight individuals, with names such as “Jamar,” “Boris,” “Anice,” and “Fiona.” The category-level books included two made-up labels (“hitchel,” “wadgen”) for all images.

A control group included 11 additional nine month-old infants who did not receive books.

The results show that infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing and attending to the images, and their brain activity clearly differentiated the individual characters after book reading. This was not found in infants before book reading, for the control group, or for the group of infants who were given books with category-level labels.

Scott has been investigating how the specificity of labels impacts infant learning and brain development since 2006. This longitudinal study is the third in a series. The eye tracking and EEG findings fall in line with her other studies showing that name specificity improves cognition in infants.

“There are lots of recommendations about reading books to babies, but our work provides a scientific basis for these recommendations and suggests that the type of book is also important,” she said.

“Shared reading is a good way to support development in the first year of life. It creates an enjoyable and comforting environment for both the parents and the infant and encourages parents to talk to their infants.”

Source: University of Florida