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BabyMindReader: a multivariate NIRS-EEG neural decoder to decipher newborns' inital representations of speech prosody

Project description

The role of prosody in infants

Newborns start learning about their mother tongue sooner than many think is possible. According to research, infants are able to identify who is speaking to them. This is the important role of prosody (a pattern of rhythm and sounds): to enable infants to identify elements of their mother-tongue. However, there is currently no direct evidence showing that infants are born with a clear neural representation of prosody. EU-funded BabyMindReader will study functional brain activity decoding in newborns (initial depictions of speech prosody). It will apply an innovative interdisciplinary approach combining experimental methods in infant language research with technical advancements of artificial intelligence, near-infrared spectroscopy and EEG methods to unveil the basis of language acquisition.


Infants are born with a wide range of broad and universal perceptual abilities that allow them to start learning any language immediately. Findings that emerged over the last decades suggest that the acquisition of language starts already before birth, and lead to the hypothesis that the main feature of speech that humans learn prenatally is prosody. According to this proposal, prosodic information acts as a bootstrap, preparing the newborn to first recognize the relevant sound patterns of their native language, and then supporting him/her during the first year of life in learning its grammar and lexicon . Although this compelling idea is supported by considerable amount of evidence, a direct test that infants are born with a clear neural representation of prosody is still missing. The BabyMindReader project aims at casting light on this matter with an innovative interdisciplinary approach that brings together experimental methods in infant language research with technical advancements in the artificial intelligence (AI) field: infants’ brain responses to stimuli characterized by different prosody will be measured in two different experiments, by means of co-registered NIRS and EEG, two of the most employed neuroimaging techniques in the infant research. Hemodynamic correlates of electrical activity in response to auditory stimuli will be characterized; based on this step, features will be selected and used to develop a multivariate classifier, by means of machine-learning methods, that will be employed to decode newborns’ initial neural representations of prosody. The BabyMindReader project will on one hand introduce methodological innovations for NIRS-EEG coregistration and analysis that will be of great impact for the whole developmental community and beyond; second, it will provide a direct characterization of the role of prenatal learning of prosody, thus contributing to theoretical advancements in the research on the basis of language acquisition.


Net EU contribution
€ 183 473,28
35122 Padova

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Nord-Est Veneto Padova
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 183 473,28