Brown Bag Talk by Ms. Deborah Choi on 16 April

Speaker: Ms. Deborah Choi

Title: The role of parental touch on language development in 2 to 5 year old children

Date: 16 April 2014, 12pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


Just like all aspects of human development, language development is characterized by individual differences. Among the many environmental factors that influence language development, maternal responsiveness is most reliably associated with higher receptive language scores. The maternal responsive behavior that was of interest here is maternal touch. While studies that look specifically into the relationship between maternal touch and language are scarce, indirect evidence from studies on motor, cognitive, and social development points towards a possibility that maternal touch might be beneficial.

To examine this possibility, we recorded and analyzed tactile interactions between mothers and their 2 and 5 year old children during a structured play session lasting about 10 minutes. Language measures from both mothers and children were recorded and compared against the amount of deliberate touch initiated by the parent. Additionally, we examined child directed speech as a further variable against which we sought to compare the effect of maternal touch.

Results showed that both maternal touch and speech measures accounted for child speech. Surprisingly, however, the frequency with which a mother addressed a child through tactile and verbal communication negatively correlated with the syntactic complexity of child speech. Moreover, the only mother behavior that seemed to promote language development was the mother’s own syntactic complexity. The more complex her speech, the more complex was the speech of her child.

These results suggest that, at least in the short term, maternal touch rather than being beneficial impedes on language development. Possibly, when touch is plentiful it negates an acute need to engage in verbal communication and delays the emergence of linguistic sophistication. However, by providing the foundation for mother-child bonding and more general aspects of social development touch may nevertheless contribute to how children acquire linguistic sophistication later in life.

About the Speaker:

Deborah received her bachelor’s degree majoring in Psychology and Cultural Studies/Comparative Literature from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UMTC). She is currently pursuing her M.Soc.Sci at NUS.

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