Motherese in Interaction: At the Cross-Road of Emotion and Cognition?

Motherese in Interaction: At the Cross-Road of
Emotion and Cognition? (A Systematic Review)
Catherine Saint-Georges1,2, Mohamed Chetouani2, Raquel
Cassel1,3, Fabio Apicella4, Ammar Mahdhaoui2, Filippo Muratori4,
Marie-Christine Laznik5, David Cohen1,2*
1 Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Pitié-Salpêtrière
Hospital, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, 2 Institut des
Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique, Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique 7222, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, 3
Laboratoire de Psychopathologie et Processus de Santé (LPPS, EA
4057), Institut de Psychologie de l'Université Paris Descartes, Paris,
France, 4 IRCCS Scientific Institute Stella Maris, University of Pisa, Pisa,
Italy, 5 Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Association
Santé Mentale du 13ème, Centre Alfred Binet, Paris, France
Various aspects of motherese also known as infant-directed speech
(IDS) have been studied for many years. As it is a widespread
phenomenon, it is suspected to play some important roles in infant
development. Therefore, our purpose was to provide an update of the
evidence accumulated by reviewing all of the empirical or experimental
studies that have been published since 1966 on IDS driving factors and
impacts. Two databases were screened and 144 relevant studies were
retained. General linguistic and prosodic characteristics of IDS were
found in a variety of languages, and IDS was not restricted to mothers.
IDS varied with factors associated with the caregiver (e.g., cultural,
psychological and physiological) and the infant (e.g., reactivity and
interactive feedback). IDS promoted infants’ affect, attention and
language learning. Cognitive aspects of IDS have been widely studied
whereas affective ones still need to be developed. However, during
interactions, the following two observations were notable: (1) IDS
prosody reflects emotional charges and meets infants’ preferences, and
(2) mother-infant contingency and synchrony are crucial for IDS
production and prolongation. Thus, IDS is part of an interactive loop that
may play an important role in infants’ cognitive and social development.
Citation: Saint-Georges C, Chetouani M, Cassel R, Apicella F,
Mahdhaoui A, et al. (2013) Motherese in Interaction: At the Cross-Road
of Emotion and Cognition? (A Systematic Review). PLoS ONE 8(10):
e78103. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078103

Editor: Atsushi Senju, Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom
Received July 19, 2013; Accepted September 6, 2013; Published
October 18, 2013
Copyright: © 2013 Saint-Georges et al. This is an open-access article
distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: The authors have no support or funding to report.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing
interests exist. * E-mail:
Motherese, also known as infant-directed speech (IDS) or “baby-talk”,
refers to the spontaneous way in which mothers, fathers, and caregivers
speak with infants and young children. In a review of the various terms
used to denote young children’s language environments, Saxton
suggested the preferential use of “infant- or child-directed speech” [1]. In
1964, a linguist [2] defined “baby-talk” as “a linguistic subsystem
regarded by a speech community as being primarily appropriate for
talking to young children”. He reported that “baby talk” was a well-
known, special form of speech that occurred in a number of languages
and included the following 3 characteristics: (1) intonational and
paralinguistic phenomena (e.g., a higher overall pitch), (2) words and
constructions derived from the normal language (e.g., the use of third
person constructions to replace first and second person constructions),
and (3) a set of lexical items that are specific for baby talk. He provided
a precise, documented study of IDS across several different languages.
Since then, infant-directed speech has
been studied extensively across a number of interactive situations and
contexts, especially by researchers interested in understanding
language acquisition. A recent review of “baby- talk” literature focused
on phonological, lexical and syntactic aspects of the input provided to
infants from the perspective of language acquisition and comprehension
[3]. Although Snow, in a review of the early literature on motherese [4],
claimed that “language acquisition is the result of a process of
interaction between mother and child, which begins early in infancy, to
which the child makes as important a contribution as the mother, and
which is crucial to cognitive and emotional development as well as
language acquisition”, few experimental findings have sustained this
assertion. Recent progresses in cognitive science and in interactional

perspective suggest, however, that infant cognitive development is
linked with social interaction (e.g., Kuhl et al., 2003). Motherese could be
a crossroad for such a linkage. Here, we aim to review the available
evidence relevant to motherese from an interactional perspective, with a
specific focus on children younger than 2 years of age. In contrast with
Soderstrom’s review (2007), we
October 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 10 | e78103
Figure 1. Diagram flow of the literature search.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078103.g001
focus more preferentially on motherese’s prosodic and affective aspects
to determine the factors, including interactive ones, associated with its
production and variations, its known effects on infants and its suspected
functions aside from language acquisition.
We searched the PubMed and PsycInfo databases from January 1966
to March 2011 using the following criteria: journal article or book chapter
with ‘‘motherese’’ or ‘‘infant-directed speech’’ within the title or abstract,
published in the English language and limited to human subjects. A
diagram summarizing the literature search process is provided in Figure
1. We found 90 papers with PubMed and 134 with PsycInfo, of which 59
were shared across the databases, for a total of 165 papers. We
excluded 50 papers because 11 were reviews or essays and 39 were
experimental studies that did not aim to improve knowledge on IDS as
they addressed other aims (see details in Annex S1). We found an
additional 29 references by
screening the reference lists of the 115 papers, leading to a total of 144
relevant papers.
1: General comments
Table 1 lists the relevant studies and the number of subjects included
according to each domain of interest. The following observations are
evident: (1) certain points are well documented (e.g., IDS’s effect on

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