mom coochy-coos better than dad

A computer program has decided that women are better than men at baby talk. Designed by Gerald McRoberts of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Malcolm Slaney of IBM’s Almaden Research Center in California, the program listens to speech and analyzes how voice pitch, rhythm and stress — the emotional content of speech — communicate meaning. Six sets of parents were evaluated. First, they were told to encourage their babies, and then to warn them away from a dangerous object. The program was able to correctly judge which were the encouraging and discouraging comments 80 percent of the time. But, as New Scientist reported last week, the surprising result was that the program was able to correctly identify 12 percent more of the comments made by mothers, suggesting that women use less ambiguous sounds than men when talking to babies. The researchers admit that the program may not pick up all speech characteristics, but the study does show that men and women talk to babies differently.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 2/11/2003.
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