Stanford Study Finds Mom's Voice Is Unique

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For many kids, hearing their mother's voice can be a soothing experience. But what's really going on inside their brains to make them feel that way?

For many kids, hearing their mother's voice can be a soothing experience. But what's really going on inside their brains to make them feel that way?

Stanford researchers Daniel Abrams, Ph.D., and Vinod Menon, Ph.D. set out to use functional MRI scans to see how children in the 7-12 year old range processed the sound of their mother's voice. They say early research had already documented a connection with unborn babies in the womb.

"And the fetal heart rate goes up when an infant actually listens to the Mom's voice," Menon points out.

The team had mothers, and other women with similar voices, read short made-up words into a digital recorder. The kids were then placed into the MRI, with an audio hook-up.

"And we say you're about to hear some voices that may be familiar to you," explains Abrams.

He says the voices were randomized and played in different orders. Still, when they began comparing the pathways that were only activated by the mother's voice, they were stunned. Not just voice related pathways lit up, but also different centers in the brain that process, emotions, facial recognition. And even reward behaviors.

"The really surprising finding is this kind of big broadcast, wide broadcast of the mom's voice to all of these emotion and reward processing areas in the brain," says Menon.

They say it's too early to draw firm conclusions from the findings, but they believe that having such varied parts of the brain keyed in on the mother's voice, could be an indication of its influence on a child's social development. What they also don't know yet is whether other important voices in the child's life are processed the same way.

"Parents are asking the most about father's voice. And I've gotten a bunch of emails, saying well, what about that." Says Abrams chuckling.

But answers could be coming. The team says this study will now provide a baseline for future research. And as any good mother might tell you, if you want to learn, you have to keep listening.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

Related Topics:
scienceu.s. & worldmedicalscienceparentingfamilysocietychildrenstanford universityhealthSan FranciscoPalo AltoStanford University
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