Can you still recite "Hey, Diddle Diddle" from memory? What about "Ring around the rosy?"

A student at the University of South Carolina found there may be a reason beloved nursery rhymes are repeated generation after generation. The rhymes happen to aid brain development. 

Ayan Mitra, a graduate student in USC's College of Education, selected four nursery rhymes to test the theory and created non-rhyming versions of "Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater," "A Wise Old Owl," "Dr. Foster went to Gloucester" and "Bobby Shafto."

He then divided several children, ages 5 to 8, into a rhyming cohort and a non-rhyming cohort. 

The ones who learned the rhyming versions of the poems remembered them better and retained the "societal lessons" embedded in verses.  Some of the nursery rhymes even improved their language development. Children in the non-rhyming group retained less information. 

Mitra, who recently moved from India to complete his doctoral degree at USC, plans to continue his research. 

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"As of now, the data I have shows that there is a definite relation between the rhymes and how children perceive them," he said. "It helps their associative memory, mother tongue, understanding of complex societal issues, adult registers and other language-oriented developments."

One day, he hopes to work in the child literacy field. 

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598. 

Lauren Sausser is the Features Editor at The Post and Courier. She also covers health care issues in South Carolina.

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