Why do children stick out their tongues when they are concentrating?

Yesterday I was watching a child stick his tongue out of the corner of his mouth while he was painting an illustration of a story he wrote. He was very focused and the screams from the classroom did not affect him in the slightest. The gesture of the tongue on the side of the mouth is a fairly ordinary behavior in children between 5 and 9 years old, but also quite interesting, why do they do it?

I searched the internet and to my surprise, just a few days ago a study was published about this intriguing behavior in the magazine Cognition and, according to its results, sticking out the tongue while doing a motor activity reflects the important relationship that language has with motor skills.

Sticking out your tongue while doing a motor activity reflects the important relationship that language has with motor skills.

The researchers videotaped 14 right-handed 4-year-old children while they carried out activities specially designed to involve different levels of motor skills at home. They also looked at how often they stuck their tongue out and whether they stuck it out of the right or left corner of their mouth.

Preliminary hypotheses suggested that children would stick out their tongue more in fine motor activities. But to the surprise of the researchers, it was the activities that required more movements and not as much precision where the children stuck out their tongues more. The authors’ explanation is that movements are fundamental components of the rudimentary communication system.

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Another striking finding was that the children stuck their tongues out more from the right corner of their mouths. The explanation is that this side of the mouth is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain and this hemisphere is dominant in the language of almost all right-handed people. Which reinforces the idea that motor behaviors accompanied by sticking the tongue out from one side of the mouth share a link with language.

If sticking out our tongue while doing motor activities is part of language, why don’t we adults do it? The researchers explain that adults suppress this behavior due to the cultural connotations of sticking out our tongue. Imagine that you stick out your tongue every time you are focused on your work, what would your colleagues or your boss say to you?

It seems that this research does not provide very relevant information, but that is not the case. His data have important implications for neurological language research and contribute data on the communication system that includes hand, mouth, and tongue actions spontaneously and synchronously.

It’s amazing how a simple behavior can teach us about something as complicated as our brain and language.

Fountain: