A new study reveals why teens seem to disconnect from their mother’s voice

“Do you even hear me?”

It’s a question that discouraged parents often ask their distracted teens, and the truthful answer is probably “No”.

It’s hard to really blame them. New research on adolescent brains suggests that our reaction to certain voices changes naturally over time, making our mother’s voice feel less valuable.

When they scanned the children’s brains, children under 12 showed an explosive neural response in their mother’s voice, activating reward centers and emotion processing centers in the brain.

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

The mother’s voice no longer generates the same neurological reaction. In contrast, a teenager’s brain, regardless of gender, seems more sensitive to all voices in general, whether new or remembered.

The changes are so obvious that researchers were able to guess a child’s age simply by how his brain responded to his mother’s voice.

“Just as a baby knows how to tune his mother’s voice, a teenager knows how to tune in to new voices,” explains Stanford University psychiatrist Daniel Abrams.

“As a teenager, you don’t know you’re doing this. It’s just you: you have your friends and new classmates and you want to spend time with them. Your mind is becoming more sensitive and attracted to these unfamiliar voices.”

Researchers suspect that this is a sign that adolescents’ brains are developing social skills. In other words, a teenager does not intentionally close his family; your brain is maturing in a healthy way.

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

So it makes sense for a child’s brain to be especially in tune with their parents’ voice.

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

“When teens seem to rebel against not listening to their parents, it’s because they’re wired to pay more attention to voices outside the home,” says neuroscientist Vinod Menon, also of Stanford University.

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

Extending the study to 22 teens between the ages of 13 and 16.5, however, a mother’s voice did not have the same impact.

In contrast, all voices heard by adolescents activated neural circuits associated with auditory processing, choosing prominent information and forming social memories.

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

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

Researchers hope to study how these brain circuits differ from those with neurological conditions.

Among younger children, for example, Stanford researchers have found that people with autism do not show such a strong response to their mother’s voice. Knowing more about the underlying neurobiological mechanisms could help us understand how social development occurs.

The results of the current study are the first to suggest that as we age, our hearing focuses less on our mother and more on the voices of a variety of people.

The idea is supported by other behavioral and neuronal studies, which also suggest that adolescent brain reward centers are marked by a greater sensitivity to novelty in general.

These changes could be key parts of healthy social development, enabling adolescents to better understand the perspective and intentions of others.

“A child becomes independent at some point, and that has to be precipitated by an underlying biological signal,” Menon says.

“That’s what we’ve discovered: this is a signal that helps teens connect with the world and make connections that allow them to be socially fit outside of their families.”

The study was published in Journal of Neuroscience.

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