Wednesday, December 07, 2022

New study shows teens seem to tune in to their mom’s voice

“Are you listening to me too?”

This is a question that frustrated parents often throw at their distraught teens, and the true answer is probably “no.”

It’s really hard to blame them. New research on teen brains shows that our responses to certain voices naturally change over time, making our mother’s voice feel less valuable.

When scanning the brains of children 12 years and younger, an explosive neural response to their mother’s voice appeared, activating reward centers and emotion-processing centers in the brain.

Yet sometimes around a child’s 13th birthday, a change occurs.

The mother’s voice no longer produces the same neurological response. Instead, a teen’s brain, regardless of their gender, in general appeared to be more responsive to all sounds, whether new or remembered.

The changes are so obvious that researchers can only estimate a child’s age based on how their brain reacts to their mother’s voice.

“Just as an infant knows how to tune into its mother’s voice, so an adolescent knows how to tune into a novel voice,” explains Stanford University psychiatrist Daniel Abrams.

“As a teen, you don’t know you’re doing it. You’re the only one: You’ve found your friends and new partners and you want to spend time with them. Your mind is becoming increasingly sensitive and attracted. These unknown voices.”

Researchers suspect this is a sign of the adolescent brain developing social skills. In other words, a teenager does not intentionally close his family; His brain is maturing in a healthy way right now.

Several lines of evidence have shown that for young children, a mother’s voice plays an important role in their health and development, affecting their stress levels, their social bonds, their feeding skills, and their speech processing. Is.

So it makes sense that a child’s brain would be more specifically tuned to the voice of its parent.

However, there comes a time when it is more beneficial to listen to people other than your mother.

Vinod Menon, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, says, “When teens tend to revolt by not listening to their parents, it’s because they’ve been wired to pay more attention to sounds outside their home. goes.”

The findings are based on fMRI results published in 2016 by the same team of researchers, which found that children under the age of 12 associate brain circuits selectively with a mother’s voice.

When the study was expanded to 22 adolescents aged 13 to 16.5 years, a mother’s voice did not have that much effect.

Instead, all sounds heard by adolescents activate neural circuits associated with auditory processing, extracting key information and forming social memories.

When presented with a recording of their mother’s voice saying three nonsense words, as opposed to a stranger’s voice saying the same thing, the participants’ brain scans actually showed less activation in the brain’s reward centers.

The same was true of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that helps determine which social information is most valuable.

Researchers are hoping to see how these brain circuits differ in people with neurological conditions.

For example, in young children, Stanford researchers have found that people with autism do not respond as strongly to their mothers’ voices. Knowing more about the underlying neurobiological mechanisms can help us better understand how social development occurs.

The findings of the current study are the first to suggest that as we get older, our hearing is focused less on our mother and more on the voices of a variety of people.

This idea is supported by other behavioral and neural studies, which also suggest that reward centers in the adolescent brain are marked by increased sensitivity to novelty in general.

These changes can be key parts of healthy social development, allowing teens to better understand the perspectives and intentions of others.

“A child becomes independent at some point, and this is precipitated by an underlying biological signal,” says Menon.

“That’s what we uncovered: it’s a signal that helps teens engage with the world and make connections that allow them to be able to socialize outside of their families.”

The study was published in Journal of Neuroscience,


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