Language acquisition is a labor of love, but it’s labor-intensive

Mother-baby synchrony shows the start of language acquisition [1]

Language acquisition depends on social contact

Children get their information about language from their caretakers and the adults around them. They tend to pick up on the most frequent nouns, verbs and adjectives first, and then extend their range. They attend to what is in the joint focus of attention for adult and child, to what is physically and conversationally present, and hence to the language directed to them as addressees.[2]

Infant attention… was significantly higher in response to the live person than to either inanimate source… During live exposure, tutors focus their visual gaze on pictures in the books or on the toys they talk about, and infants’ gaze tends to follow the speaker’s gaze… Infants in the live exposure sessions were visibly aroused before the sessions – they watched the door expectantly, and were excited by the tutor’s arrival, whereas infants in the non-social conditions did not.

Exposure to a new language in a live social interaction situation induces remarkable learning in 9-month-old infants, but no learning when the exact same language material is presented to infants by a disembodied source.[3]

Language acquisition is fostered by emotional expression

…infant-directed speech style reflects free vocal expression of emotion to infants, in comparison with more inhibited expression of emotion in typical adult-directed speech. …infant-directed speech is accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions of emotion…[4]

American infants exposed in the laboratory to Mandarin Chinese rapidly learned phonemes and words from the foreign language, but only if exposed to the new language by a live human being during naturalistic play. Infants exposed to the same auditory input at the same age and for the same duration via television or audiotape showed no learning…[5]

…infant-directed prosody itself is not special. What is special is the widespread expression of emotion to infants in comparison with the more inhibited expression of emotion in typical adult interactions.

…infants prefer to listen to infant-directed speech expressing positive (approval) affect over infant-directed speech expressing negative (prohibition) affect…[4]

Infants of nondepressed mothers readily learned that their mothers’ speech signaled a face, whereas infants of depressed mothers failed to learn that their mothers’ speech signaled the face. Infants of depressed mothers did, however, show strong learning in response to speech produced by an unfamiliar nondepressed mother.[6]

Language acquisition takes substantial labor and time

… a mother’s immediate social feedback results both in greater numbers and more mature, adultlike vocalizations from infants…

…infants vocally imitate adult vowel sounds by 5 months but not acoustically matched nonspeech sounds that are not perceived as human speech…

By 10 months… Children raised in Beijing listening to Mandarin babble by using tonelike pitches characteristic of Mandarin, which make them sound distinctly Chinese. Children being raised in Seattle listening to English do not babble by using such tones and sound distinctly American.[5]

Language acquisition labor changes, but the labor continues

Parents frequently check up on what their children mean. They often do this by reformulating with a side sequence or an embedded correction what they think their children said. Since the child’s utterance and the adult reformulation differ while the intended meanings are the same, children infer that adults are offering a correction. Analyses of longitudinal data from five children between 2;0 and 4;0… show that (a) adults reformulate their children’s erroneous utterances and do so significantly more often than they replay or repeat error-free utterances; (b) their rates of reformulation are similar across error-types (phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic) in both languages; (c) they reformulate significantly more often to younger children, who make more errors.[7]

At a conservative estimate, the average 5-year-old child will have learned more than 2,000 words… and will learn up to 3,000 more per year in the coming school years…[8]

  1. Melina, Remy. “” LiveScience, 23 Aug. 2011, Accessed 14 Oct. 2017.
  2. Clark, Eve V. “How language acquisition builds on cognitive development.” Trends in cognitive sciences 8.10 (2004): 472-478.
  3. Kuhl, Patricia K. “Is speech learning ‘gated’ by the social brain?” Developmental science 10.1 (2007): 110-120.
  4. Trainor, Laurel J., Caren M. Austin, and Renée N. Desjardins. “Is infant-directed speech prosody a result of the vocal expression of emotion?” Psychological science 11.3 (2000): 188-195.
  5. Meltzoff, Andrew N., et al. “Foundations for a new science of learning.” Science 325.5938 (2009): 284-288.
  6. Kaplan, Peter S., et al. “Infants of depressed mothers, although competent learners, fail to learn in response to their own mothers’ infant-directed speech.” Psychological Science 13.3 (2002): 268-271.
  7. Chouinard, Michelle M., and Eve V. Clark. “Adult reformulations of child errors as negative evidence.” Journal of child language 30.3 (2003): 637-669.
  8. Baddeley, Alan, Susan Gathercole, and Costanza Papagno. “The phonological loop as a language learning device.” Psychological review 105.1 (1998): 158-173.

Enduring bonds tend to form in sexual relationships

Couple in bed illustrating that enduring bonds tend to form in sexual relationships[1]

Enduring bonds likely involve reproduction, attachment, and caregiving

It is likely that three basic behavioral systems were involved and may still be characteristic of presentday human sexual pair bonds: the reproductive, attachment, and caregiving systems.

The reproductive system may achieve its functional outcome without an enduring bond being involved.

In the human case it is obvious that mating can occur without a bond forming, but when pair bonding does occur, the caregiving system is likely to be involved, with the male concerned with the care and protection of children either directly, or indirectly through care and protection of his mate, or both. …it makes sense to suppose that the female may also strive to give care to her partner in appropriate ways, if only in acknowledgement of the care she needs from him. Furthermore, various societies tend to foster enduring bonds through marriage customs… thus backing up biological predispositions to ensure that young are cared for and not merely produced.

In the course of a long-term sexual relationship, whether in customary marriage or not, attachment of each partner to the other tends also to be built up, the attachment and caregiving components interacting to make for a reciprocal give-and-take relationship.

Enduring bonds often start with sexual attraction, and later include caregiving and attachment

Although in many cultures sexual attraction may be the most important component at the start of a relationship, those that depend entirely on the sexual component are likely to be short-lived. As the relationship persists, the caregiving and attachment components are likely to become important also and tend to sustain the bond even in cases in which sexual interest has waned.

In many marriages there are components other than the three fundamental components that I have emphasized so far. For example, spouses may be professional or business partners, or they may spend more than the usual time together because they enjoy sharing the same leisure time interests and activities. These and other components of the relationship with the partner in a marriage or quasi-marriage are not essential, however, and may or may not contribute to its persistence over time.

Enduring bonds tend to persist long after a pair is separated

Much of the research into human sexual pair bonds has focused on the break-up of the relationship – with separation or divorce and adjustment afterwards. It is clear that the attachment component is long lasting, tending to persist long after the pair has been parted, and even when the parting was much desired. There is a tendency to miss the partner and to feel lonely.[2]

  1. “You won’t believe how sleeping together or apart can affect your health, relationship.”, 6 Mar. 2017, Accessed 30 May 2017.
  2. Ainsworth, Mary D. Salter. “Attachments and other affectional bonds across the life cycle.” Attachment across the life cycle, edited by Colin Murray Parkes et al, Routledge, 1991, pp. 33-51.

Petting dogs, and being touched by dogs, builds bonds we need

A ruby cavalier puppy lying on his master’s lap is a classic example of petting dogs

A ruby cavalier puppy lying on his master’s lap [1]

Bonding is necessary for normal development

The long-term discovery from Harlow’s work was that… isolated monkeys developed relatively normally physically, but abnormally socially. They did not interact with other monkeys well: terrified, they huddled in the corner when another young monkey was put into their cage.

Social interaction and personal contact is more than desirable: it is necessary for normal development.

Months later, Harlow tried to rehabilitate those monkeys whose early isolation so malformed them. He found that the best remedy was regular contact with young normal monkeys, whom he came to call “therapy monkeys,” in play. This restored some of the isolates to more normal social actors.

Petting dogs brings measurable changes that are very good

Simply petting a dog can reduce an overactive sympathetic nervous system within minutes: a racing heart, high blood pressure, the sweats. Levels of endorphins (hormones that make us feel good) and oxytocin and prolactin (those hormones involved in social attachment) go up when we’re with dogs. Cortisol (stress hormone) levels go down.

There is good reason to believe that living with a dog provides the social support which correlates with reduced risk for various diseases, from cardiovascular disease to diabetes to pneumonia, and better rates of recovery from those diseases we do get.

In many cases, the dog receives nearly the same effect. Human company can lower a dog’s cortisol level; petting can calm a racing heart.

Bonding with a pet can do the work that long-term use of prescribed drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy do.

Petting dogs is the first thing we reach for to build bonds

There are three essential behavioral means by which we maintain, and feel rewarded by, bonding with dogs. The first is contact: the touch of an animal…

Petting zoos have arisen to satisfy the urge to engage that animal on the other side of the fence not only by looking at it, but by touching it. Better still if the animal is touching back—with, say, a warm tongue or worn teeth grabbing at the food in your outstretched hands.

Children and even adults who approach me on the street as I walk with my dog want not to look at the dog, to watch her wag, to meditate on the dog—no, they want to pet the dog: to touch her. In fact, after a cursory rub, many people appear satisfied with that interaction. Even a brief touch is sufficient to bolster the feeling that a connection has been made.

Occasionally one might find one’s toes, hanging off the end of the bed bare, being licked.

Petting dogs — and in general, touch — is the first thing dogs reach for to build bonds

Dogs and humans share this innate drive for contact. … being held by the mother may be naturally comforting.

Watch an infant child, with limited vision and even more limited mobility, try to snuggle into his mother, his head rooting around for contact, and one is seeing just what newborn puppies look like.

Blind and deaf at birth, they are born with the instinct to huddle with siblings and their mother, or even with any solid object nearby. The ethologist Michael Fox describes the head of a puppy as a “thermotactile sensory probe,” moving in a semicircle until it touches something. This begins a life of social behavior reinforced by and embracing contact.

Wolves are estimated to make a move to touch one another at least six times an hour.

Petting dogs, and being touched by dogs, builds our bonds and maintains our bonds

Directed toward us, the dog’s youthful instinct becomes a drive to burrow a head under our sleeping bodies or to rest a head upon us; to push and bump us as we walk; to gently nibble or lick us dry. We find them touchable: furry and soft, right under dangling fingertips…

…full-body contact is preferred by some dogs, especially young dogs, and especially when they are the initiators of the contact. Dogs often find places to lie down that maximize contiguity of body with body. This might be a safe posture for dogs, especially as puppies, when they are entirely reliant on others for their care. To feel light pressure along the whole body is to have assurance of your well-being.

It is hard to imagine knowing a dog but not touching him—or being touched by him. To be nudged by a dog’s nose is a pleasure unmatched.[2]

  1. Tamaki, Rie. “Yuzu Ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Puppy Sleeping on My Lap.” YouTube, 6 May 2013, Accessed 28 May 2017.
  2. Horowitz, Alexandra. Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know. Scribner, 2009, Scribd pp. 325-343.

Dogs adapted to live with people

Dogs adapted to shiift their period of socialization to live with people.

(a) Dogs begin to explore the world around them at four weeks of age using sight, hearing, and smell. Later, all these senses show dogs when they’re safe. 

(b) Wolves begin to explore the world at two weeks of age using only smell. Later, only smell shows wolves when they’re safe, and much is novel and frightening.

Dogs adapted to socialize with people

While it is possible to tame a wolf, the process is much more intensive than that required to produce a tame dog. Wolves require twenty-four hours contact a day starting before three weeks of age… …around four weeks old… they begin to bite their sleeping human companions and thus co-sleeping with humans ends, but the pups still spend all their waking hours in the presence of people. This socialization process continues until the pups are four months old…

Dogs require as little as ninety minutes of contact with humans during their ‘critical period’ of socialization—one of the critical periods of development… —to form a social attachment…

The critical period for socialization begins with the ability to walk and explore the environment… The critical period of socialization closes with the avoidance of novelty, when an animal runs away from, rather than approaching and exploring, novel objects.

Wolves begin to walk and explore at two weeks of age… And wolves don’t show the avoidance of novelty—the true ‘‘onset of fear’’—until six weeks of age.

Dogs do not start to walk and explore until four weeks… …fear gradually increases… until around eight weeks when they will run away from a truly novel stimulus (a stimulus having no familiar characteristics).

Thus wolves and dogs both have a four-week critical period for socialization—wolves just go through it two weeks earlier than dogs do.

…dogs and wolves… developed the ability to see, hear, and smell at the same time. The consequence of this is that dogs began to explore the world around them at four weeks of age with the senses of sight, hearing, and smell available to them, while wolves began to explore the world at two weeks of age when they had the ability to smell but while functionally blind and deaf… This change in the interaction between the developing senses and the critical period for socialization means that dogs can generalize familiarity using all of their senses, while wolves must rely primarily on their sense of smell, making more things novel and frightening as adults.

Dogs adapted to forage near people

Dogs… no longer have to spend as much energy and ingenuity foraging. Rather than hunting prey, dogs can rely on human refuse, which is more predictably located and available year round. Foraging on garbage is a less complex behavior pattern than hunting and dog pups can forage even before they are entirely weaned. Thus, by the time they are ten weeks old they are perfectly capable of finding their own food…

Dogs adapted to populate near people

Dogs have lost seasonality of reproduction: in other words they do not reproduce solely at a particular time of year… Dogs also reach sexual maturity faster than wolves and can reproduce during their first year of life… Furthermore, dogs are polygamous, in contrast to wolves, which are generally monogomous… Thus dogs show no pair bonding and protection of a single mate, but rather have multiple mates in a year.

Wolves, and in fact all of the wild members of the genus Canis, display complex coordinated parental behaviors. Wolf pups are cared for primarily by their mother for their first three weeks of life… During this time she remains in the den with them while they rely on her milk for sustenance and her presence for protection from predators. Because of this she cannot spend much time away from them, and the father brings the mother food during this period. Once the pups come out of the den and have enough teeth to chew, the father, mother as well as some pups from previous years, begin to regurgitate food to the pups… Wolf pups become independent by five to eight months, although they often stay with their parents for years…

Dogs, on the other hand, show greatly reduced parental behavior. Pups are still cared for by the mother. They rely on her for milk and protection just like wolves. However, unlike wolves, the mother gets no help from any other dogs during this time. There is no paternal care, let alone help from older siblings. Once pups are weaned at around 10–11 weeks they are independent and receive no further maternal care…

Dogs adapted to love people

…dogs are canids that have come to occupy a new niche through natural selection.

The real differences between dog and wolf behavior lie at… basic levels: in the process of socialization, in foraging, and in reproduction.

The intertwined changes… are small but they have massive downstream effects. These indirect consequences include the fact that we have dogs resting at our feet and not wolves.

  1. Udell, Monique AR, et al. “A dog’s-eye view of canine cognition.” Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2014, pp. 221-240.

Close feelings built by mothers’ and fathers’ play with infants and toddlers

Father play with infant builds close feelings[1]

Close feelings built by connecting with mother and father

Background emotions… chart the timeline for the ongoing sense of self, and integrate… changes in internal milieu in response to external or internal events…[2]

…background emotions reflect our basic proximity to others, that is, our fundamental feeling of interpersonal connectedness. Pathologically altered background emotions in depression thus reflect a sense of lost proximity.[3]

In contrast to negative emotions, which can be expressed and regulated by the infant in alone states from the first day of life, positive affect in infancy occurs only in dyadic contexts… To experience and express positive emotions, infants require the participation of an attuned adult who can both construct and coregulate the positive affect in a moment-by-moment process.

The present findings chart one pathway in the development of background emotions—from parent–infant affect coordination to sequences of symbolic play in toddlers…

Close feelings built through play with infants

The shape of infant arousal at play, the background emotion temporal line, showed a markedly different pattern with mother and father, and those were persistent across the first years of life.

The affective contour with mother was more gradual and contained more neutral states. There was typically only one positive emotional peak of longer duration that occurred later in the interaction and was preceded and followed by shared gaze in neutral arousal, as if mother and child were copreparing the intense moment.

…moments of high positive arousal with father were more frequent, were shorter in duration, occurred more quickly, and could have been reached from any previous state. Fathers also showed higher affective matching of the infant’s positive arousal, accentuating episodes of intense emotionality through shared affect. …the degree of father–infant synchrony (coherence) was comparable to the mother’s, suggesting that although interactions with fathers may appear more random, fathers and infants engage in a tightly fitting, well-matched interactive dance to the same extent as mothers.

It is possible that the quick-paced yet fitted interaction with father facilitates specific forms of emotion regulation in infants, perhaps those related to the management of novelty, unpredictability, and quick shifts in arousal. Research on the effects of father absence on children’s difficulties in regulating emotions in social and learning contexts… is consistent with this assumption.

…father– child play partners are less focused on each other and moments of intense affect appear quickly, frequently, and without preparation, an affective line that may direct infants to explore the environment and contribute to their capacity to engage in rapidly changing intense experiences while maintaining a sense of secure base…, internalized through the synchronous interactions with the father.

Close feelings built through play with toddlers

As infants make the transition from preverbal relatedness to verbal representations, a symbolic layer is added to the previously established mutuality in ways that preserve the specific rhythms of the parent– child coordination and thus echo the child’s earliest nonverbal experiences.

The parent-specific contours of infancy were preserved at the toddler stage, and episodes of complex symbolic play with father were of shorter durations, higher frequencies, and quicker latencies. The present findings are the first to show sequential relations between the father’s and child’s symbolic expression at play. Similar to the findings for synchrony, fathers appear to support the child’s creative output to the same extent as mothers while providing moment-by-moment scaffolding.

…the affective components of the interaction played a more central role in toddlers’ interactions with mother. Reciprocal maternal acts were followed by an increase in symbolization; intrusiveness was followed by a decrease in symbolic play and the child’s resort to functional activity; and mothers used the social play mode more than fathers. Reciprocity also emerged as an independent predictor of the child’s symbolic complexity with mother, pointing to the special role of mutual, socially oriented reciprocity for infant development via the relationship with mother.

For fathers, the frequency of positive peaks in infancy predicted toddlers’ symbolic expression above and beyond the father’s concurrent scaffolding and the father–infant synchrony, highlighting the organization of intense positive arousal as a potential contributor from the father– child relationship to emotional development.

Close feelings built by co-occurrences, sequences, and synchrony with mothers and fathers

…the infant’s first two meaningful relationships incorporate all three forms of affective coordination— co-occurrences, sequential relations, and synchrony—into the interaction and may suggest that such coordination is an important aspect of interpersonal intimacy across the life span, with each relationship offering affect matching and synchrony in a unique and special way.[2]

  1. Parke, Ross. “Are Mothers and Fathers Interchangeable?, Accessed 30 Jan. 2017.
  2. Feldman, Ruth. “On the origins of background emotions: from affect synchrony to symbolic expression.Emotion 7.3 (2007): 601-611.
  3. Varga, Somogy, and Joel Krueger. “Background emotions, proximity and distributed emotion regulation.Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4.2 (2013): 271-292.

Bonding of shelter dogs to humans is very quick

A dog pushes his face through an opening in his cage and gazes intently, displaying the readiness for bonding of shelter dogs to humans.

Bonding of shelter dogs fills their deep need

Attachment is claimed to be the basic organizational factor for any species’s social structure leading to group formation.

Dogs have an unfolding pattern of socialization and some sensitive periods during development that are very similar to the same phenomena recognized in the human infant…

Dogs seem to show innate responsiveness to humans that is not influenced by feeding…, and even punishment does not extinguish the proximity seeking of pups to a handler… Moreover, puppies show social attraction to humans even if they were exclusively strictly disciplined during handling…

…under certain conditions such as the loss of the attachment figure (parent or owner), both dog and child may develop similar behavior disorders ranging from psychogenic epilepsy to asthma-like conditions, ulcerative colitis, anorexia nervosa, and so on…

Bonding of shelter dogs was achieved in adults, with simple activities, in a total of just 30 minutes

In this study, 60 shelter dogs (Canis familiaris) were observed…

Before testing, 40 dogs were handled 3 times for 10 min. Dogs were caught and taken from the yards by the respective handler. The handling was carried out on leash and consisted of talking to the dog, petting, doing very simple exercises such as making them sit down, walking together, or playing and fetching, depending on the willingness of the dog.

…dogs in the handled group exhibited more contact seeking with the entering “owner,” less physical contact with the unfamiliar person, less frequent following of the leaving unfamiliar person, and less standing by the door in the presence of the “owner.”

Although the ability to form attachments is usually associated with an early sensitive period, in this experiment we demonstrated that in certain conditions a short responsive interaction with an unfamiliar human individual may result in attachment behavior even in the case of dogs that are more than 1 year old.

Social animals in poor social conditions are remarkably ready for bonding

Our study shows that… dogs living in poor social conditions become more responsive to humans, which results in a remarkable readiness to form attachment relationships.

… in the case of rhesus monkeys, a similar effect has been shown because most abnormally socialized monkeys could be rehabilitated to a certain extent by appropriate exposure to conspecific [same-species] groups and individuals…[2]

  1. Pajer, Nicole. “Reasons dogs end up in shelters.”, Accessed on 9 Nov. 2016.
  2. Gácsi, Márta, et al. “Attachment Behavior of Adult Dogs (Canis familiaris) Living at Rescue Centers: Forming New Bonds.Journal of Comparative Psychology 115.4 (2001): 423-431.

Bonding in parent’s marriage is template for bonding in children’s marriages

man and woman embrace and kiss

Bonding in children’s marriages reflects bonding in parent’s marriage

… the give and take of living with another person,… how to deal with differences, and… how to resolve conflicts… is knowledge that children acquire from growing up with both parents in reasonably harmonious, intact families.

… members of the comparison group, even those raised in disappointing marriages, were hopeful that sooner or later they would meet the right person and enter into a satisfying, committed relationship, usually involving marriage.

“I never doubted I’d marry and have a family” was a typical comment.

They expected ups and downs in their relationships, but they did not expect to fail, if they chose carefully. The issue of choice of partner, which was so baffling to the children of divorce, was where the comparison group told us they put their greatest efforts. Their confidence that things would eventually work out well enabled most to survive heartbreak and to delay marriage until they felt ready.

Often they drew on their family of origin for images of what they wanted. “I didn’t want a volatile lady like my mom.”

Many men and women mentioned that they wanted someone who would be a good parent to their future children.

Asked how she chose her husband, one woman laughingly answered, “Besides his being devastatingly good looking, you mean? I wanted someone who wasn’t too serious, who would treat me well, who would be a good father, and was someone I’d like to wake up with 50 years later.”

Bonding weakness in children’s relationships is predicted by bonding weakness in parents’ marriage

I remember feeling so alone. I would go for days with no one to talk to or play with.” “I remember being angry at everyone.”

“I remember the sun striking the patterns on the living room carpet in the late afternoon. It was the last time that I saw my dad. I was 4 years old,” said one 30-year-old woman.

One 30-year-old suffered with severe nightmares that occurred twice weekly and recapitulated a particularly violent scene in which her father burst into the home with a gun and attempted to shoot her mother but was arrested in time. When told of the dream, her mother explained that it had happened just that way, when the girl was 4. The daughter answered, “I don’t remember it.”

One 34-year-old man described how, at age 5, he would bang his head repeatedly against the wall when his father hit his mother in the adjoining room.

Violence was sometimes an overture to sex for the parents, which the children also remembered overhearing.

“My mom never taught me about men. She didn’t know anything.”

One woman said, “I could never do to another human being what my mother did to my father.”

Unlike the men, all of the women from both the divorced and comparison groups had been in relationships, either brief or longer lasting affairs. A subgroup of over 20 women from the divorced group sought out multiple lovers.

Ten women told us that when they were with a man they did not care for, they enjoyed the sex, but that when they liked or loved the man, they froze.

Many eventually overcome their fears, but the struggle to do so is painful and can consume a decade or more of their lives.

One woman in her 30s told us that her strongest memory of her parents’ divorce, when she was 11 years old, was of her father crying as he walked slowly down the flower-bordered path away from the family home, after her mom threw him out because of his adultery. This memory flashed before her eyes whenever she contemplated leaving her alcoholic boyfriend.

Some attractive, very young women accepted the first marriage offer they received, whatever the man’s attributes. When asked why they had married, they replied, “I was afraid no one else would ever ask me.” In one such instance, the 23-year-old woman turned to a man she hardly knew, on their second date, and said, “Marry me. It’s my birthday.”

“I learned from my dad how not to parent,” said one man, who was then expecting his first child.[2]

  1. Arsic, Vera. “Man Kissing Woman.” Pexels, 4 Apr. 2018, Accessed 13 Jan. 2021.
  2. Wallerstein, Judith S., and Julia M. Lewis. “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: Report of a 25-Year Study.Psychoanalytic psychology 21.3 (2004): 353-370.