When children hear their mothers speak, many more brain areas are activated than when kids hear other peoples' voices. This brain reaction is a predictor of a young person's ability to communicate socially, according to a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Erin Digitale writes on the Stanford Medicine website that scientists say kids' brains are engaged at a higher level when they hear their mothers' voices, as shown in the study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The regions of the brain that are stimulated by a mother's voice include those linked to emotion processing, reward processing, social functions, detecting what is personally relevant, and face recognition.
In a classic study, it was found that one-day-old infants sucked more vigorously on their pacifiers when they heard the sound of their mother's voices.
But the current study is the first to assess brain scans of youngsters listening to their mothers' voices. The study also discovered that there are strong connections between the regions of the brain activated by mother's voice and a 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, Ph.D., instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "But surprisingly little is known about how the brain organizes itself around this very important sound source. We didn't realize that a mother's voice would have such quick access to so many different brain systems."
The study's senior author, Vinod Menon, Ph.D., is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. He noted that although there have been decades of research that has proven that kids prefer the voice of their mother, no one has looked at what brain circuitry is engaged until now.
Researchers reviewed 24 kids from the ages of 7 to 12, all of whom had IQs of 80 or above. None of the subjects had developmental disorders, and all were living with their biological mothers. Parents also answered questions concerning their child's ability to interact and relate with others. The moms were then asked to record three nonsense words, according to IANS.
Two mothers who were not involved in the study were requested to record three nonsense words to act as controls. The children's brains were scanned by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The results were that the young ones identified their mothers at an accuracy rate of 97%, even when the recording was played for less than a second.
When asked why nonsense words were used, Menon said:
"In this age range, where most children have good language skills, we didn't want to use words that had meaning because that would have engaged a whole different set of circuitry in the brain."
Mary Elizabeth Dallas, writing for CBS News, explained that children who had stronger links between these brain areas when they heard their mother also had the highest levels of communication. Dr. Menon declared that this research had created a new template for discovering communication deficiencies in young people with disorders such as autism.