The brains of 3 to 7 month old babies are much more developed than previously believed. Researchers of University College, London have found that the part of the brain that is known for processing the neutral sounds in grownups is active even in the infants and it reacts to neutral sounds such as coughing, sneezing or yawning. Now, the babies also showed response in the part of the brain known for processing emotions in adults, to emotionally charged sad sounds.
The parts of the brain that are involved in processing human vocalisations in babies were studied. The response to emotionally neutral sounds was more as compared to familiar sounds of a toy or water. One of the researchers in the University College study, Evelyn Mercure said that this discovery is going to fundamentally alter and improve our understanding of the babies’ brain. The temporal cortex (part of the brain) has been found to be more developed than believed earlier. This study has shown that brain has specialised areas even in infancy.
There is evidence of infants extracting information from human speech in a subtle manner. Newborns are known to listen to their mother’s voice and mother tongue. It has also been noted that infants make a distinction between voices of men, women, children and adults. In the study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to record brain impulses in sleeping babies. They were presented with different sounds which were emotionally neutral, positive or negative human vocalizations and non-vocal environmental sounds.
It was a surprising find that the area of the temporal cortex, that responded to the human voice more than to environmental sounds, was located in similar position in the babies as it is found in the adults, according to Mercure.
Anna Blasi of King’s College London said that human voice being a vital social has a bearing on the brain’s early specialisation. It is believed that further research in this line of study can reveal the causes of mental disorders such as autism. Prevention measures for such disorders can be devised. This study can be beneficial for the treatment of disorders in which social communication is affected such as autism and schizophrenia.