Exciting new research has found that a mothers voice will preferentially activate the parts of the brain responsible for language learning, say researchers from the University of Montreal and the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Centre.
The team made the discovery after performing electrical recordings on the infants within the 24 hours following their birth. This is exciting research that proves for the first time that the newborn’s brain responds strongly to the mother’s voice and shows, scientifically speaking, that the mother’s voice is special to babies.
The brain signals also revealed that while the infants did react to other women’s voices, these sounds only activated the voice recognition parts of the brains. The research used electrodes attached to the heads of 16 babies while they were sleeping. The babies mother was then asked to make a specific sound which was then repeated by a female nurse. When the mother spoke, the scans very clearly show reactions in the left-hemisphere of the brain, and in particular the language processing and motor skills circuit. Conversely, when the stranger spoke, the right-hemisphere of the brain reacted. The right-hemisphere is associated with voice recognition.
It was already well known that babies have some innate language capacities, but researchers are only just beginning to understand what these capacities are and how they work. For example, when a baby hears the “A” sound, he or she will make the mouth shapes needed to imitate this noise, even if he or she has never seen it spoken.
This research confirms that the mother is the primary initiator of language and suggests that there is a neurobiological link between prenatal language acquisition and motor skills involved in speech.
M. Beauchemin, B. Gonzalez-Frankenberger, J. Tremblay, P. Vannasing, E. Martinez-Montes, P. Belin, R. Beland, D. Francoeur, A.-M. Carceller, F. Wallois, M. Lassonde. Mother and Stranger: An Electrophysiological Study of Voice Processing in Newborns. Cerebral Cortex, 2010; DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhq242