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Previous research has found that poor children in the United States hear as many as 30 million fewer words by age 4 than wealthier children do, contributing to a socioeconomic status (SES) achievement gap. Now, a study in Psychological Science suggests that what matters is not only the number of words that children hear, but the quality of the conversation. Researchers evaluated the verbal ability of 36 socioeconomically diverse children, ages 4 to 6, then used recording and language-analysis software to analyze two days of conversations between the children and their caregivers at home. They found that children from high-SES homes experienced more “conversational turns”–back-and-forth exchanges between the caregivers and children–than children in lower-SES homes did. Later, the researchers used fMRI to measure the children’s brain activity as they listened to a story. They found that children who had experienced more conversational turns at home showed more activity in a language-related area of the frontal lobe (Broca’s area) while listening to the story. (Monitor on Psychology)

Susie Bean Gives