Mother and Stranger: An Electrophysiological Study of Voice Processing in Newborns


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Abstract

In the mature adult brain, there are voice selective regions that are especially tuned to familiar voices. Yet, little is known about how the infant's brain treats such information. Here, we investigated, using electrophysiology and source analyses, how newborns process their mother's voice compared with that of a stranger. Results suggest that, shortly after birth, newborns distinctly process their mother's voice at an early preattentional level and at a later presumably cognitive level. Activation sources revealed that exposure to the maternal voice elicited early language-relevant processing, whereas the stranger's voice elicited more voice-specific responses. A central probably motor response was also observed at a later time, which may reflect an innate auditory-articulatory loop. The singularity of left-dominant brain activation pattern together with its ensuing sustained greater central activation in response to the mother's voice may provide the first neurophysiologic index of the preferential mother's role in language acquisition.

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