Newborn feels subtle language differences in the very first hours of life

(ORDO NEWS) — Neuroscientists from Bangor University set up an experiment on neuroimaging of the brain of newborns in the very first hours after birth.

Using infrared spectroscopy, a non-invasive cortical imaging technique that illuminates the cortex with a light heat beam, neuroscientists have seen the surprisingly rich responses of a newborn’s brain to sound patterns during the first five hours of life.

Do not think that the baby only sleeps and cries. He is already eager to know the world

A study by neuroscientists at Bangor University, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, found that newborns begin to discern nuances in the world around them within hours. They are already tuned in to the specific languages ​​they will speak.

Babies have been known to learn language by hearing speech, even when they are in the womb, but they hear indistinctly speech is muffled, as if it were walking through water.

Neuroscientists have been working with newborns from the very first minutes after birth. Infants were given to listen to a combination of vowel sounds played first in direct order (for example, “O-A-U-E”), and then the same sounds – in reverse order (“E-U-A-O”).

To record the reactions of the cerebral cortex, scientists used non-invasive neuroimaging. They illuminated the baby’s skull with light beams of near infrared light and recorded its reflection.

Some of the radiation is scattered, and some is reflected, and depending on what happens in the body (for example, how oxygenated the blood is in a particular area of ​​the brain), a little more or a little less light is reflected.

To obtain accurate results, several light sources were used with precise control of their power and position, and very precise sensors were used to measure changes in the reflected light.

In the first hours, infants did not distinguish between the direction of pronunciation of vowels (direct or reverse). Scientists emphasize that this is a very subtle difference: even adults fail such a discrimination test in 70% of cases.

But after five hours, optical imaging showed that the newborn brain began to distinguish the direction of the sound. And after another two hours, during which the newborns were mostly asleep, exposure to vowels caused a burst of connectivity: entire networks of neurons “talked” to each other.

Newborn feels subtle language differences in the very first hours of life 2
After five hours of exposure to this sound “contrast,” optical imaging showed that the neonate’s brain began to differentiate between the two sounds

Baby learns even when he sleeps

Guillaume Thierry, professor of cognitive neuroscience, says: “Our study showed that a very subtle difference hard to detect even for an adult ear is enough to cause a significant spike in brain activity in a newborn’s brain. This shows that even the earliest experiences have potentially serious consequences for human cognition.”

“In other words, we need to challenge the myth that children are basically not aware of their surroundings until after a few weeks, simply because they sleep a lot. On the contrary, we should pay attention to the impacts that children are exposed to from the moment they are born.”

Gary Oppenheim, professor of psychology, added: “The work that the ears and auditory system of a newborn do is not so obvious to the naked eye, but this impressive result shows that we have a remarkable sensitivity to language information from the very moment we are born, and we immediately begin to to the development of linguistic information and improvement. It is a reaction to our experience in the world, even when it seems to us that we are just sleeping.”


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