Learn about Infant Communication

May 4, 2019
Most researchers believe infant communication doesn't start until the age of one. However, others believe babies can communicate with adults. Read more here!

The most common belief about infant communication is that infants can’t communicate before the age of one. According to this conception, babies and adults don’t communicate with each other until after a baby turns one. Nevertheless, new studies have suggested that babies are born with an innate capacity to communicate with adults. Some experts refer to this communicative ability as “intersubjectivity”.

It’s clear that babies and adults don’t dialogue. Rather, they communicate through “protoconversations”. When babies and their parents react to each other, these reactions aren’t just instinctual reflexes. Babies recognize experiences and react to them. In short, babies comprehend that they’re interacting with others.

Lack of Communication in Infants

Some researchers believe that intersubjectivity doesn’t begin until the child is between nine months and a year of age. On the other hand, there are many who argue that babies have an innate ability for intersubjective interactions. The difficulty lies in knowing whether the interactions between babies and their caretakers amount to real communication and a connection of subjective experiences.

Those who argue against intersubjectivity in infants believe that babies don’t communicate until they’re approximately nine months of age. At 14 months of age, babies begin to use “protodeclaratives”. In other words, the child points out an object and, by following an adult’s gaze, can confirm that the adult shares their attention toward the said object. These protodeclaratives serve as evidence that infants are able to infer intention in other people.

Some consider synchronized expressions proof that early infant communication exists.

Babies Can Communicate

As we’ve stated, some researchers believe that intersubjectivity is real, that it’s an innate capacity that allows babies to communicate their subjective experiences.

These researchers argue that babies don’t need complex cognitive or symbolic systems to communicate. They can use their emotions to do it. According to these ideas, babies are able to exchange their experiences with their caretakers.

Although intersubjectivity might seem to make sense from a theoretical perspective, science demands experimental proof. In this case, it’s a matter of proving that exchanges of expressions, emotions, gestures, and vocalizations or babbling can be considered forms of communication. In order to prove this, one study analyzed the changes in the expressions of children between two and six months of age and their parents.

Parents communicating affection to their baby.

What Researchers Discovered about Infant Communication

Researchers discovered that facial expressions coincided with each other. They also discovered that the intensity of emotions between parents and infants was synchronized. Aside from that, they also noted that babies don’t just respond to their mother’s actions. They also make her respond in certain ways.

This suggests that infants have the ability to engage in “conversations”. Other experiments also support this idea in a different way. They show that when an adult is interacting with a baby and suddenly stops, the baby waits for their reaction. When the adult doesn’t react, the infant becomes irritated and demands a response. Such results support that protoconversations are a type of communication.

According to the results, babies perceive attention when an adult looks at them. They also experience emotional motivation when they witness adults gesturing. That is, they feel that the adult is trying to communicate with them. Babies then respond in some way to these attempts. As such, you might say that infant communication is innate.