For children, hearing their mothers’ voices has a calming, soothing effect. But the effects on children’s brains are more far-ranging than that, a new study shows.
The study analyzed the way 24 children aged 7-12 raised by their biological mothers reacted to their mothers’ as well as other unknown female voices. According to the researchers conducting the survey, children taking part in the study did not suffer from developmental disorders and had an IQ of 80 or more. The children were exposed to the sound of their mothers’ voices, who were recorded saying three nonsense words. The nonsense words were used instead of words that made sense to prevent other circuits in the brain from being activated.
The children then listened to their mothers’ voices as well as to the recording of two unknown female voices, while their brains were scanned using MRIs. The results showed that children could identify their mothers’ voices with a 97 percent accuracy even when they were listening to recordings that were shorter than one minute. But what excited most the researchers was the discovery that several areas in children’s brains lit up when hearing their mothers speak and were less reactive when the unknown females were talking.
The areas of the brain engaged were involved in emotions, hearing, processing information about the self, receiving and processing information about faces and reward processing. It’s an exciting thing to see how mothers’ voices echoes and impacts so many of the regions in their children’s brains, senior researcher involved in the study and Stanford professor Vinod Menon said.
Moreover, researchers established that children with the stronger reaction to their mother’s voice were also those who were displaying the strongest social communication skills. It is already known that a large part of the child’s emotional, social and language processes are learnt from mothers. The voice, in particular, is one of the most powerful communication tools.
Previous studies had already shown that children are more responsive to and favor their mothers’ voices, however the findings of the study in question point out to deeper implications for child development. According to Menon, they could serve as a template for the future study of social communication deficits in children who suffer from disorders such as, for instance, autism.
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