Mother and Stranger: An Electrophysiological Study of Voice Processing in Newborns

Oxford Journals
Cerebral Cortex

January 2011


In the mature adult brain, there are voice selective regions that are especially tuned to familiar voices. Yet, little is known about how the infant’s brain treats such information. Here, we investigated, using electrophysiology and source analyses, how newborns process their mother’s voice compared with that of a stranger. Results suggest that, shortly after birth, newborns distinctly process their mother’s voice at an early preattentional level and at a later presumably cognitive level. Activation sources revealed that exposure to the maternal voice elicited early language-relevant processing, whereas the stranger’s voice elicited more voice-specific responses. A central probably motor response was also observed at a later time, which may reflect an innate auditory-articulatory loop. The singularity of left-dominant brain activation pattern together with its ensuing sustained greater central activation in response to the mother’s voice may provide the first neurophysiologic index of the preferential mother’s role in language acquisition.

  1. 1Centre de recherche, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sainte-Justine, Montréal, H3T 1C5, Canada
  2. 2Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC), Département de Psychologie Université de Montréal, Montréal, H2V 2S9, Canada
  3. 3Neurostatistics Department, Cuban Neuroscience Center, Havana, 6648, Cuba
  4. 4Voice Neurocognition Laboratory, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Scotland, G12 8QB, UK
  5. 5International Laboratories for Brain, Music and Sound (BRAMS), Université de Montréal & McGill University, Montréal, H2V 4P3, Canada
  6. 6Groupe de Recherches sur l’Analyse Multimodale de la Fonction Cérébrale (GRAMFC, EA 4293), Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Nord, Amiens, 80054, France
  1. Address correspondence to Dr Maryse Lassonde, Department of Psychology, Pavillon Marie-Victorin, Université de Montréal, 90, Ave Vincent d’Indy, Montreal, Quebec, H2V 2S9, Canada. Email:

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.