Friday, July 1, 2011

Babies recognise human voices at 3 months

A report has indicated that young babies' brains are already specially attuned to the sounds of human voices and emotions.

Three- to seven-month-old infants showed more activation in a part of the brain when they heard emotionally neutral human sounds, such as coughing, sneezing, or yawning, than when they heard the familiar sounds of toys or water.

That activity appeared in an area of the temporal lobe known in adults for its role in processing human vocalizations. The babies also showed greater response to sad sounds versus neutral ones in another part of the brain involved in emotion processing in adults.

The researchers said the discoveries fundamentally advance our understanding of infant development.

"Our results suggest that the infant temporal cortex is more mature than previously reported," said Evelyne Mercure of University College London.

"It is a rare demonstration that specialized areas exist in the brain very early in development, she added.

"It is probably because the human voice is such an important social cue that the brain shows an early specialization for its processing," added Anna Blasi of King''s College London.

"This may represent the very first step in social interactions and language learning, added Blasi.

In the new study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record brain responses in sleeping babies while they were presented with emotionally neutral, positive, or negative human vocalizations or nonvocal environmental sounds.

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