Child’s brain responds more strongly to mother’s voice

The mother’s voice can lighten up and engage the child’s brain far more than the voices of women they do not know, say researchers — including an Indian-origin scientist.

The findings showed that brain regions that respond more strongly to the mother’s voice extend beyond regions of hearing. It included regions of emotion and reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant and face recognition.

Also, the strength of connections between the brain regions activated by the voice of own mother predicted the child’s social communication abilities.

“Many of our social, language and emotional processes are learned by listening to our mom’s voice,” said lead author Daniel Abrams from Stanford University in the US. “But surprisingly little is known about how the brain organises itself around this very important sound source. We didn’t realise that a mother’s voice would have such quick access to so many different brain systems,” Abrams said.

“We wanted to know — is it just auditory and voice-selective areas that respond differently, or is it more broad in terms of engagement, emotional reactivity and detection of salient stimuli,” added Vinod Menon, professor at Stanford University.

For the study — published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the team examined 24 children aged seven to 12. None had any developmental disorders and were raised by their biological mothers. Each child’s mother was recorded saying three nonsense words and two other women were also recorded saying the three nonsense words. The children’s brains were then scanned using MRIs.

The results revealed that the children could identify their own mothers with 97 per cent accuracy, even after listening to recordings less than one-second long.

“The study can be an important new template for investigating social communication deficits in children with disorders such as autism,” Menon noted.


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