Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Baby learning.

Do babies learn the same way adults do, or is there something else going on in there before they can speak?

Damage to two particular regions of the brain causes language impairment in adults, while in children it does not halt language development. Does this mean baby brains work language through different regions to adult brains, or is their brain so adaptable that they can call in other areas to make up for the damage?

Researchers from the University of California San Diego used two types of brain scans, both noninvasive, to check on the areas in the brain that were activating in babies aged 12 months to 18 months. The results appear in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

The tests were quite simple. First, say a common word or alternatively a fake word that sounds quite similar. Second, show a picture of a common object, like a ball or a dog, and say either the correct name or a wrong name for the picture.

From the scans, the team found that even before they can speak, babies process language in the same areas as adults, as the same areas become active. This means if these get damaged in young children, the brain is still flexible enough to call on other areas for language development, whereas in adults, the brain is too fixed to re-route.

The team also found that the babies already had a mental database of words they understood. When pictures were mismatched to names, adult brains become active in a particular region that handles errors in language, and the brain scans showed babies did this too.

So, even before your baby can talk, he or she is learning much the same way an adult does, and has already developed a vocabulary.


January 10, 2011 Posted by | Brain, Language, Learning, Success | Leave a comment

How smart is your dog?

John W Pilley and Alliston K Reid decided they would like to find out how much a dog can learn, given extensive training over a long period. The dog in question was a border collie called Chaser. Pilley and Reid couldn’t find Chaser’s limit after 3 years, when the dog could remember the names of over a thousand different objects and was still learning new ones.

The 1,022 objects were toys that Chaser used, each with a different name. However, Chaser also understood verbs, so the dog could combine the correct object with what was supposed to be done with that toy.

Further, Chaser understood a few groups. For example, there were objects that collectively could be referred to as balls, while others fell into the frisbee group.

Finally, Chaser could remember, at least for a short while, that a particular toy was excluded from the group to which it apparently belonged. For example, a particular ball was not to be counted as a ball. This remembering for a short time then forgetting is displayed by children when they learn.

As noted, Pilley and Reid did not find Chaser’s limit. They simply stopped trying to find it after the 3 years was up.

The other point of interest is that these things were toys to Chaser – fun, enjoyment, a real incentive to learn, and this be the main carry over message for humans.

But the next time you talk to your dog just be aware that the dog may understand more than you think.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Activity, Brain, Exercise, Fun, Health, Language, Learning, Nature, Psychology, Success | Leave a comment


A well-established theory in psychology allows you to work out whether a speaker is thinking ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as long as you know which is their dominant hand.

People gesture with their dominant hand when they are thinking of good and with their weaker hand when they are thinking of bad.

Prof Daniel Casasanto analysed the speech and gestures of 4 presidential candidates from the last two elections.

Whether Republican (right) or Democrat (left), whether right-handed or left-handed, the candidates gestured on their dominant side when expressing positive ideas and on their weaker hand when expressing negative thoughts.

Good is right, but not if you are left-handed.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | Daniel Casasanto, Language, Psychology, Relationships, Success | Leave a comment

Words of pain.

Professor Thomas Weiss used brain scans (functional magnetic resonance tomography) to look at how healthy people process words associated with pain. He found the words activate the same brain areas as pain itself.

“Verbal stimuli lead to reactions in certain areas of the brain,” claims Weiss. As soon as we hear words related to pain, the areas in the brain being activated are exactly those which process pain.

While Weiss’s study was on pain, the results may apply to other emotive words.

March 31, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Language, Science, Success, Thomas Weiss | Leave a comment

Early WORDS critical.

Babies of 2-4 months learn to organise their world around adult words they hear, according to research at Northwestern University by Professor Sandra R Waxman and Dr Susan J Hespos.

Babies were shown an object, accompanied by either a (fake) word or a set of tones designed to match the word.

When shown a different example of the object, they paid attention to it only if they were originally given the word label. Words count – tones don’t.

Since the original word was manufactured (e.g. toma), the babies had already ‘learned’ what makes up a word. Then they used the ‘new’ word to organise new examples in their view of the world.

The research appears in Child Development.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Language, Learning, Sandra R Waxman, Success, Susan J Hespos | Leave a comment

Babies worse after educational videos.

Rebekah A Richert and colleagues studied 96 children aged 1 to 2, “To examine whether children between 12 and 25 months of age learn words from an infant-directed DVD designed for that purpose.”

In general they found “There was no evidence of learning words highlighted in the infant-directed DVD independent of parental intervention.”

The average age at which infants begin watching programming designed for their age group is five months.

However, children whose parents reported that they began watching infant DVDs at an early age scored lower on a test of vocabulary knowledge.

The authors suggested a number of ways of explaining this finding. These included “parents who use baby DVDs early may be less likely to engage in behaviors that promote language development.”

The study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Child Health, Language, Learning, Rebekah A Richert, Success | Leave a comment

Stroke: sing to speak.

In stroke victims who are unable to speak, singing enables them to re-learn how to speak.

Professor Gottfried Schlaug presented preliminary results of a study to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The study is intended to compare 2 therapies to enable stroke victims who are unable to speak to relearn speaking.

Broca’s aphasia is where the speech centre of the brain, Broca’s region, in the left frontal area of the brain, has been damaged. Patients understand the speech of others, but can’t speak themselves.

Schlaug is comparing Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) with Speech Repetition Therapy. MIT has two components that SRT does not – melodic intonation (singing) and beat – rhythmic tapping of the left hand.

Rapid, permanent gains are made with MIT and Schlaug considers this is “most likely due to structural remodeling of a right-hemisphere speech-production network”.

This shift to the right side seems to work because while speech production is located in a limited area of the brain, singing works the whole brain.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Gottfried Schlaug, Language, Learning, Melodic intonation therapy, Stroke, Success | Leave a comment

Babies born bilingual.

Krista Byers-Heinlein, Janet F Werker and Tracey Burns investigated whether babies born to bilingual mothers were themselves bilingual – able to keep separate but recognise both languages spoken by the mother.

They used an established technique called high-amplitude sucking-preference procedure. Newborns have a reflex action to suck more when interested in a stimulus.

They compared babies where the mother spoke only English, to those where the mother was bilingual in English and Tagalog.

The babies with bilingual mothers showed an increased preference for both English and Tagalog. Further, when they tired of English, they would show interest in Tagalog, and vice-versa, showing that they kept the languages separate.

In brief, babies of bilingual mothers are already wired to be bilingual.

The findings appeared in Psychological Science.

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Janet F Werker, Krista Byers-Heinlein, Language, Learning, Science, The Blank Slate, Tracey Burns | Leave a comment