According to EurekAlert, this study (entitled Early Specialization for Voice and Emotion Processing in the Infant Brain and published in Current Biology) purports that three-to-seven month infants have greater activation in the temporal lobe of the brain, known in adults for its role in processing human vocalizations, when they heard emotionally neutral human sounds than when they heard familiar sounds of toys or water.
Researchers at the University College London and King’s College London, used fMRI to record brain responses in sleeping babies. “Our results suggest that the infant temporal cortex is more mature than previously reported,” said Evelyne Mercure.
“It is probably because the human voice is such an important social cue that the brain shows early specialization for its processing,” added Anna Blasi (King’s College).
An interesting fact is that previous studies, which correlate to this new study, demonstrate that infants can extract subtle information from human speech. Newborns prefer to listen to their mother’s voice and their mother tongue. Past research has demonstrated that young infants can differentiate between the voices of men and women as well as children and adults.
The study’s author, Dean Murphy of King’s College, commented on the application of these findings, “We are now carrying our more research in this area to help us understand how differences in brain development arise, if we can use these to accurately identify babies who will go on to suffer from disorders such as autism and if they can be used to help measure the effectiveness of interventions.”