Young children's neural processing of their mother's voice: An fMRI study

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In addition to semantic content, human speech carries paralinguistic information that conveys important social cues such as a speaker's identity. For young children, their own mothers’ voice is one of the most salient vocal inputs in their daily environment. Indeed, qualities of mothers’ voices are shown to contribute to children's social development. Our knowledge of how the mother's voice is processed at the neural level, however, is limited. This study investigated whether the voice of a mother modulates activation in the network of regions activated by the human voice in young children differently than the voice of an unfamiliar mother. We collected fMRI data from 32 typically developing 7- and 8-year-olds as they listened to natural speech produced by their mother and another child's mother. We used emotionally-varied natural speech stimuli to approximate the range of children's day-to-day experience. We individually-defined functional ROIs in children's voice-sensitive neural network and then independently investigated the extent to which activation in these regions is modulated by speaker identity. The bilateral posterior auditory cortex, superior temporal gyrus (STG), and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) exhibit enhanced activation in response to the voice of one's own mother versus that of an unfamiliar mother. The findings indicate that children process the voice of their own mother uniquely, and pave the way for future studies of how social information processing contributes to the trajectory of child social development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-19
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Jan 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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