Are you telling this to your mom?

Maria Isabel Garcia
Are you telling this to your mom?
[Science Solitaire] Whose voice was it that shaped your early brain?

All of life is about finding your own voice, but before then, whose voice was it that shaped your early brain?

At birth, babies start to experience a barrage of the senses. Coming from the relatively silent womb, being out of that world is a premium upgrade for all their senses. This is the time that their brains would start to wire rapidly. That is why, study after study has shown, that the first 1000 days of a child in terms how s/he experiences the world is crucial to the adult s/he will become.

Like a fleet ready to fire upon encountering stimuli, baby’s brains also learn how to distinguish which ones to ignore and which ones to pay attention to. As with sights, touch, smell and taste, they rapidly learn how to sift through the world’s abundance. Filtering and making sense of all these will help her or him successfully navigate the world and his or her life in it.

Recently, scientists have uncovered something about how children assigns importance and meaning to sounds. Specifically, they zeroed in on what is the most common sound we hear as babies. They did a study on the effect of mother’s voice on their young children.

Scientists have known for some time now that the singular voice that we as children distinguish, is that that of our mother’s. Studies have shown that even when we were still inside her womb, we were constantly suffused by the vibrations of our mother’s voice and they penetrate the listening armada of auditory neurons inside our heads. This “primordial” sound conditions us as growing babies to regard our mother’s voices as the most familiar voice and our preferred voice over other female sounds.

In terms of how children behave and perform in learning stuff, studies also show that a mother’s way of communicating is critical in serving as cues, and its recording is a source of comfort when we start early schooling together with all the new kinds of stress we encounter. So knowing all these effects, scientists wanted to find out what brain regions in a child are summoned by their mother’s voice? And even more, they wanted to see if these had anything to do with the social communication abilities of these children.

So the study hooked up a brain scanning machine on to 24 healthy children aged between 7 to 12. They recorded mothers as they uttered nonsense words for less than a second to see what happens to the brains of their corresponding children as the latter listened to their recordings. The researchers had to use “nonsense words” because they did not want inherent meanings of words to cause the children to pay attention to the recording because of the words and not the voice.

And this is what they found. A mother’s voice summons brain circuitry that are associated not only with the obvious – auditory and voice selection areas of the brain – but also with reward, emotions and even visual face processing! The scientists were surprised at the extent of brain areas in a child that got excited upon hearing his or her mom’s voice for less than a second! They were also surprised that this activated the reward circuitry was significantly activated by mom’s voice like music as has it has also been discovered to have this effect. Mom’s voice is apparently equivalent to rewarding music as far as children are concerned. The researchers think that the simultaneous hearing of mom’s voice and the rewarding feeling it gives a child reinforces and expands the power of mom’s voice in a child’s life.

Even more importantly, the study found that the extent of connectivity between the auditory circuitry as well as the ones that have to do with reward, emotions, and visual face processing could predict the social communication abilities of children! This means that we can use the “brainprint” of a mother’s voice on her child to see the development of these social communication abilities. This is especially true of children with autism who may be trapped and unable to express themselves to others. This could be a way to detect or confirm the condition earlier so that steps may be taken as early as possible.

Mothers have the very special privilege to be that one voice to coach her child to ably shake hands and lock eyes with the world.  It is also her job to use that voice to make sure that happens.

This also makes mothers realize how much power they have over their children that they should really be careful of the things they utter even when they are still pregnant with their children. If a mother’s voice is generally THE VOICE – safe and kind – for all children, how would it be for kids who have been raised by different or many people and no one person because they had no mothers?

And for those who have mothers but their mothers shout or curse at anything routinely, it seems reasonable to think that these mothers could be twisting this power to work against their child’s social development.

And what about us adults, long after we have left our parents’ homes and have assigned meaning to many other voices in our lives, how does mom’s voice fare over those other voices in terms of the extent of the brain circuitry it sets off? I still flinch whenever my mom would text (for some reason I “hear” her text message) or call, wondering what she does not approve of (again). It is also the voice that is the most difficult to refuse in terms of favors. My mom’s voice has a brainprint in my own brain that is the equivalent of the Amazon in terms of the Earth’s forest cover.

We have always known that our moms have power over us in the nooks and crannies of our being that we did not even know were still there, decades after childhood. Science just confirmed that our brainprint also shows the same. I am just not telling my mother. –

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