New research suggests a mother’s voice may do far more than soothe her child, activating several areas of their children’s brains.
When moms spoke, several areas of their children’s brains were activated, the researchers reported. These included regions involved in emotion and reward processing, social functions, facial recognition and the detection of what is personally relevant.
But this heightened neurological reaction was reserved for mom alone, and not for other women, the investigators found.
“Many of our social, language and emotional processes are learned by listening to our mom’s voice,” study author Daniel Abrams, an instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said in a university news release, CBS News reported.
“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,” Abrams added.
Previous studies have shown that children favor their mother’s voice, but the underlying mechanism for this preference was unclear.
“Nobody had really looked at the brain circuits that might be engaged,” explained senior study author Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. “We wanted to know: Is it just auditory and voice-selective areas that respond differently, or is it broader in terms of engagement, emotional reactivity and detection of salient stimuli?”
To answer these questions, researchers analyzed the brain scans of children listening to their mother’s voices.
The study involved 24 children between the ages of 7 and 12 who were being raised by their biological mothers. All of the children had an IQ of at least 80 and none of the kids had developmental disorders, the researchers noted.
The children’s parents answered questions about their child’s communication skills, including their ability to interact and relate to others.
As the children listened to clips of the recordings of both their mother and the unfamiliar women, their brains were scanned using MRIs.
The researchers found the children could identify their own mother with 97 percent accuracy, even after listening to recordings less than 1 second long.
Several of the children’s brain regions were more engaged by the sound of their mother’s voice than by the stranger, the study revealed.
“The extent of the regions that were engaged was really quite surprising,” Menon said.
The parts of the brain affected include areas involved in: Hearing, Emotion, Reward processin, Processing information about the self. Perceiving and processing the sight of faces.