Newborns can pick out their mother's voice in their first days of life, and while the stimulating sound of mom's voice has long been connected to the early emotional and social development of children, little is understood neurologically. Now researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they are finally "showing the biological circuitry underlying" the mechanism at play. "We didn’t realize that a mother’s voice would have such quick access to so many different brain systems," lead author Daniel Abrams says in a Stanford Medicine news release. "It’s exciting to see that the echo of one’s mother’s voice lives on in so many brain systems," senior author Vinod Menon adds.
To explore this more closely, researchers performed fMRI scans on 24 healthy kids between the ages of 7 and 12 while each child listened to short audio clips of less than one second of nonsense words spoken by their biological mother as well as two women they did not know, reports Live Science. Not only were the children able to pick out their mother's voice 97% of the time, but when hearing their mothers, they exhibited greater activity in several brain regions, including, as Live Science notes, those related to emotions, facial recognition, and, perhaps tellingly, rewards. And because this brain activity can predict a child's social communication skills, researchers say they intend to use this "neural fingerprint" to study the brains of kids with social communication issues such as autism. (A baby survived his mother being brain dead for 55 days of her pregnancy.)