Listen to your Mother

Date: 23rd August 2016

Your mother’s voice engaged with your brain as a child far more than the voices of unfamiliar women, suggests new research from the Standford University School of Medicine.

The study has investigated the way in which a mother’s voice activates multiple brain systems, including reward, emotion, and face-processing centres, reflecting how widely a mother’s voice is broadcast throughout a child’s brain. The study also provides a neural fingerprint of children’s social communication abilities, as well as too providing a template for investigating social function in clinical disorders, for example, autism, in which perception of biologically salient voices may be impaired.

“Many of our social, language and emotional processes are learned by listening to our mom’s voice,” says lead author Daniel Abrams, instructor in psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford. “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.”

Using magnetic resonance imaging on 24 participants aged 7 to 12, Abrams and his team found that a mother’s voice extensively engaged many areas of her child’s brain beyond auditory areas, including regions involved in emotional processing, reward detection, processing of information about the self, and facial recognition.

As their brains were scanned, the young participants heard recordings of nonsense words, spoken by their mother and by other women they had never met. The children in the study whose scans showed stronger degrees of connection within the engaged regions of the brain also were the strongest social communicators, according to questionnaires filled out by the mothers.

The authors of the study say that they plan to conduct similar studies to investigate the effect of mother’s voices on children with autism and as people grow into adulthood.

Read the full write up and results of the study here.


ASHA Leader Blog

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


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