Neural processing of speech predicts prelinguistic development

Prelinguistic skills, such as babbling, gesturing, and making eye contact, lays the ground for later language skills. A recent study in the DyslexiaBaby -project demonstrates an association between prelinguistic skills and neural responses in infancy. The study shows that neural processing of speech is associated with both the concurrent level and the subsequent development of prelinguistic skills.

— Previous studies have shown that neural processing of speech is associated with linguistic skills, but our study is one of the first ones to investigate the association between neural auditory processing and prelinguistic skills, says Linda Kailaheimo-Lönnqvist from the DyslexiaBaby team. She is a PhD student in the project, and the current study will be included in her thesis.

We collected information concerning the prelinguistic skills of the children using a parental questionnaire (Infant-Toddler Checklist, ITC). The ITC questionnaire is used in health services for assessing and following up on the level of prelinguistic and early linguistic skills. 

Neural processing of speech was investigated using electroencephalography (EEG). The method is well-suited for studying infants and young children as it is safe, easy to administer, and does not require active participation. When the brain detects and processes sounds, the EEG responses P1 and N2 are produced. A mismatch response (MMR) is, in turn, elicited by a change in a stimulus.


In the current study, it was found that a large P1 predicted a large change improvement in prelinguistic skills between six and 12 months of age. The MMR was positively associated with the concurrent level of prelinguistic skills at six months, but not with the subsequent change in prelinguistic skills. A large P1 response might reflect a strong sensitivity towards speech, which in turn may support the development of prelinguistic skills.

The DyslexiaBaby -project investigates the linguistic development of children, especially focusing on children whose parent(s) have dyslexia. The aim is to enlarge our knowledge concerning the linguistic development of children whose parents have dyslexia and to find out how early it is possible to identify children in need of support. The current study included both children whose parents had dyslexia and children whose parents did not. Controlling for having a parent with dyslexia did not alter the association between neural processing of speech and prelinguistic skills.

The study was recently published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.


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  • 102 children participated in the current study.
  • EEG was measured when the children were six months of age. Prelinguistic skills were assessed at six and 12 months of age using the questionnaire Infant-Toddler Checklist (ITC).
  • In the EEG measurement, the children heard a stream of Finnish-like syllables.
  • During the EEG measurement, the children were awake and sitting in their parents’ lap. During the measurement, a research assistant did their best to entertain the children by e.g. showing them toys, as sitting still and quiet is hard for children of this age.