If you were to hear me talk to my dog when I’m home alone, you’d probably think I’m nuts. That’s because every time I see those beautiful brown eyes of hers, I start talking to her in a voice that’s three octaves higher than mine, filled with cheesy terms of endearments, like “cutie,” “baby girl,” and “sweetie pie.” That’s right: baby talk.
Why? Because she’s so damn cute, obviously. But when I think about it, there are plenty of times we baby-talk in real life: when we look at our pet, when we’re talking to a significant other (“Babyyyy, you’re so adorable when you buy me pizza”), or even when we’re trying to get something we want (“Pleeease go get me pizza, cutie?” with a fluttering of the eyelashes). And that’s why we at HelloGiggles decided to look into the scientific reason why we baby-talk, whether it’s to cute animals, babies, or even our significant others. Spoiler alert: there are quite a few fascinating reasons, and a lot of them have to do with chemicals.
1. You get a literal high from it.
According to Psychology Today contributor Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., “dopamine is released when a loving mother exhibits attachment behaviors with her baby.” See also: human-mother and pet-baby. Yep, that means when you cuddle your cat and coo into his ear, you’re literally getting a high from baby-talking. This also happens with “phenylethylamine,” or the “love chemical,” which can make you feel a “rush”—as well as with oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone.
These chemicals are what make us feel so good when we look into the adoring eyes of our pets or babies, or when we hold the hand of our significant other–and we get them released when we baby-talk.
2. It’s tied to your memories.
There’s a slightly disturbing reason why you talk to your (adult) loved ones the same way you’d talk to a baby, although it does make sense. Just like everything else, you learn love—and the first way you processed love was as a baby, when your parents baby-talked you.
In an interview with Time, Jean Berko Gleason, professor at Boston University, explained it this way: “It’s the affective quality of speech that people pick up when you talk to your loved one that way. . .It conveys intimacy and affect, because it’s tied to our memories of loving language.”
Yeesh. So that’s the reason we call our partners “baby”?
3. It grabs attention.
If you’re one of those people who hates baby-talk, you’ve probably noticed this one: baby talk grabs your attention more than pretty much any other style of speech.
One study, written about in Parenting Science, found that when sleeping babies listened to baby talk, “they experienced an increased blood flow to the frontal area of their brains.”
The reason for this is likely the higher pitch, which is an attention-grabber in other species, as well. So that baby talk you’re using might be to grab the attention of your object of affection, whether you realize it or not.
4. It makes it easier to convey your emotions.
When you baby-talk, you often exaggerate your emotions ten-fold, making your intent more obvious—no words needed.
As Parenting Science points out, your dog might not understand what you’re saying to him, but he will understand the tone you say it. If you coo “I love you, sweetie pie,” he will wag his adorable tail and run towards you. If you angrily shout “I LOVE YOU, SWEETIE PIE,” he will bolt away with said adorable tail between his legs.
Baby talk bridges the communicative gap. Of course, your partner will understand the words a bit better, but it does help to convey your affections much more than simply saying it in a normal tone. . .hence the cooing during pillow talk (when said chemicals are going wild).
So next time you start involuntarily baby-talking, don’t feel embarrassed. It’s not you, it’s just science.
(Featured image via)