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Size of Infant's Amygdala Predicts Language Ability

Silvia Ortiz-Mantilla, Rutgers University

A child's language ability correlates with the volume of his or her amygdala — the small, deep brain region that is strongly associated with emotional processing — according to an unpublished five-year longitudinal study presented at the 2008 Society for Neuroscience meetings in Washington, D.C.
Analyzing brain imaging data collected from 24 infants at 6 months of age, researchers at CMBN, Rutgers University found that the larger the volume of the right amygdala, the lower the babies score on language tests given at 2, 3, and 4 years of age. The researchers found the inverse to be true of the left amygdala, but not to statistical significance.

Based on these results and previous studies, the researchers suggest that the size of the amygdalae, specifically on the right, might play an important role not only in the pre-verbal stages of language acquisition but also at later ages when more complex and structured language emerges. This association has already been shown in children with autism, and the findings reported here extends this to normally developing children, thus supporting the idea that the amygdala might play an important role in language development. The team is planning to test the language abilities of the children again at later ages. They're also scanning more infants as young as three months, to determine just how early the amygdala's influence might arise.

S. C. ORTIZ-MANTILLA1, M.-S. CHOE2, J. FLAX1, A. REILLY1, P.E. GRANT3, A.A. BENASICH1. Association of amygdala size in infancy to language during the preschool years. Program No.868.23/OO26. [Abstract], Washington, DC: Society for Neuroscience, 2008. Online