Scientists from the University of Montreal and Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center in Canada attached electrodes to a group of 16 24 hour old babies to monitor brain activity. After performing the study, the researchers found the following remarkable result: the voice of a mother but not of a nurse, doctor or a stranger robustly activate the language processing centers of the brain in the newborn. In other words, this is the first study of its kind that shows that the voice of mothers is unique and babies inherently recognize their mother's voice possibly even inside the womb. More importantly, theelectroencephalography and MRI studies show high resolution scans that pinpoint the activation of the Wernicke's area of the left hemisphere of the brain, the brain area that is specialized in language development and recognition in human beings.
The scientists used a couple of controls in their studies to help with the interpretation of their results. The researchers also involved a nurse who is herself a mother in their studies and also ruled out the "novelty" aspect by having the mother talk to a nurse at regular intervals before birth. Amazingly, their results still held water and proved that a mother's voice is only recognized by babies as the brain scans only showed selective activations of the language areas of the brain.
It has been well documented that newborn babies do have some innate language capacities. Moreover, infants may not only learn to specifically recognize their mother's voice but also show adult-like responses in the brain to human voice at 7 but not 4 months of age. However, scientists are only just beginning to understand what the cognitive capacities of newborn babies are and the mechanisms by which babies learn and vocalize language. Nevertheless, what these studies do not currently show is whether the mother's voice is also important for brain development and learning in the child. Hence, future studies are imperative to determine whether there are any deficiencies seen in babies in which mothers spend less than the average or ideal time talking to their newborn babies. Moreover, studies like this have never been performed in such young participants which stresses the fact that many exciting and useful scientific discoveries with regards to the developing infant brain can be discovered with such a low number of participants (16) and can help us understand the pathological basis for speech language deficiencies and autism.
Moreover, the implications of these clinical findings are broad and other leading hospitals in the nation that perform pediatric research should conduct future studies as to whether a speech-language deficiencies in the infant could partly be a result of low mother to infant contact and interaction, even at such an early age.
At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children's Hospital, there are a variety of speech language pathology programs that perform cutting edge research which also involve clinical trials. Right now, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh is conducting a long term child neurology research registry. This is a large scale research initiative to store and track medical records of infants of all ages for statistical purposes. Moreover, this local clinical research initiative will help to elucidate the etiology and root causes of many neurological diseases including infant speech language deficiencies.
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