UEL Baby Dev Lab

Vocal communication is tied to interpersonal arousal coupling in caregiver-infant dyads.

Wass, S., Phillips, E., Smith, C., Fatimehin, E. O., & Goupil, L. (2022). Elife

It has been argued that a necessary condition for the emergence of speech in humans is the ability to vocalise irrespective of underlying affective states, but when and how this happens during development remains unclear. To examine this, we used wearable microphones and autonomic sensors to collect multimodal naturalistic datasets from 12-month-olds and their caregivers. We observed that, across the day, clusters of vocalisations occur during elevated infant and caregiver arousal. This relationship is stronger in infants than caregivers: caregivers vocalisations show greater decoupling with their own states of arousal, and their vocal production is more influenced by the infant's arousal than their own. Different types of vocalisation elicit different patterns of change across the dyad. Cries occur following reduced infant arousal stability and lead to increased child-caregiver arousal coupling, and decreased infant arousal. Speech-like vocalisations also occur at elevated arousal, but lead to longer-lasting increases in arousal, and elicit more parental verbal responses. Our results suggest that: 12-month-old infants' vocalisations are strongly contingent on their arousal state (for both cries and speech-like vocalisations), whereas adults' vocalisations are more flexibly tied to their own arousal; that cries and speech-like vocalisations alter the intra-dyadic dynamics of arousal in different ways, which may be an important factor driving speech development; and that this selection mechanism which drives vocal development is anchored in our stress physiology.