Have you ever wondered how crucially important a particular human voice is to you? Has such a concept even crossed your mind at all? A baby’s brain is attuned to its mother’s voice in the most amazing way. It may surprise you to know that it is a very exclusive tuning that, effectively, seems to ‘downgrade’ other voices. By that I mean that the mother’s voice reaches parts of the brain that others don’t reach!
Recent research, published only in the last few weeks, has emphasised that a mother’s voice, just its sound even and not necessarily the words themselves, plays a key role in the brain development of a child; this development will be impoverished if this precious voice for them is not heard very much.
Some earlier research by Maryse Lassonde and her unit, at Montreal University in 2010, had already alerted us to the fact that only the mother’s voice is the stimulating factor in the language-learning centre of the brain in the early stages of life. However, this more recent 2016 work by Daniel Abrams and his team at Stanford University School of Medicine shows us that there is far more to the importance of the mother’s voice than this, and that the importance of the sound of her voice continues throughout childhood.
Abrams says “…A major finding here is the breadth of brain systems that are preferentially activated by brief samples of mother’s voice…Our results suggest that hearing mother’s voice, a critical source of emotional comfort and social learning in a child’s life, is represented in a wide range of brain systems that encompass auditory, speech, reward, and affective processing and that children’s social abilities are tightly linked to the function of this network.” In other words the mother’s voice alone is shown to be a major springboard for key areas of brain development which, added together over time, help the child towards good speech and understanding, confidence, stability and increased social skills. In the voice tests carried out, the control group of women’s voices other than the mother’s, especially selected for their kind and gentle sounds, had no effect at all on those brain areas quoted, that were stimulated by the mother’s voice.
Of course it is undeniable that there are many ways we can help the healthy development of our children. But the sound of a mother’s voice is of critical importance to a baby. Mothers matter enormously; her voice is a wonderful and simple way to stimulate and improve certain connections in her baby’s brain, as well as providing much of the necessary support, confidence and security that her child needs. And then, while growing up, these various developing brain connections the mother has stimulated, will allow her child a greater ability to feel confident and to interact and relate well and sensitively with others. So – talking with your little one, as well as cooing and singing whenever you have the opportunity, and keeping this up throughout childhood as appropriate, is a real key to their healthy and robust development.
Daniel A. Abrams et al (2016)
PNAS Early Edition: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1602948113