Neuroscientists discover that the language spoken by mothers during pregnancy has a significant impact on the neural development of babies in the womb.
The language we hear during our earliest stages of life has a profound impact on our cognitive development. While it is well-known that babies can hear sounds while in the womb, the extent to which these auditory experiences shape their neural development has remained a mystery. However, a recent study conducted by a team of neuroscientists at the University of Padua, in Italy, in collaboration with a colleague from CNRS and Université Paris Cité, has shed new light on this topic. Their research, published in the journal Science Advances, suggests that the language spoken by mothers during pregnancy has a direct influence on the neural development of their unborn babies.
Unraveling the Impact of Prenatal Language Exposure
Previous studies have confirmed that babies in the womb can hear their mother’s voice and other sounds from their environment. However, the specific effects of these auditory experiences on the developing brain have remained unclear. To explore this further, the research team conducted experiments involving 33 newborn babies and their mothers, who were all native French speakers. The newborns were fitted with EEG caps, allowing the researchers to monitor their brain activity.
EEG Readings Reveal Language-Specific Neural Responses
During the experiment, the researchers played recordings of a person reading different language versions of the book “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” while the babies slept. EEG readings were taken before, during, and after the reading. The team analyzed the EEG readouts and discovered that babies exposed to the story in French exhibited an increase in long-range temporal correlations. These correlations have previously been associated with speech perception and processing. This finding suggests that exposure to a specific language during pregnancy has a unique impact on the neural development of the baby’s brain.
Detrended Fluctuation Analysis Unveils Syllable-Level Speech Units
To further understand the strength of the temporal correlations observed in the EEG readings, the researchers conducted detrended fluctuation analysis. This analysis revealed that the correlations were strongest in the theta band, which is known to be associated with syllable-level speech units. The team suggests that this indicates the infants’ brains became attuned to the linguistic elements present in the language they were exposed to during pregnancy.
Language-Specific Neural Response
Another intriguing finding from the study was that the neural response of the babies was most pronounced when the book was read in French. This suggests that prenatal exposure to a particular language plays a crucial role in shaping the neural development of the baby’s brain.
The study conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Padua, in collaboration with researchers from CNRS and Université Paris Cité, provides compelling evidence that the language spoken by mothers during pregnancy has a significant impact on the neural development of babies in the womb. The findings reveal that exposure to a specific language during this critical period leads to distinct neural responses in newborns. This research deepens our understanding of the importance of early language exposure and highlights the intricate relationship between prenatal experiences and brain development. As we continue to unravel the mysteries of human cognition, this study serves as a reminder of the profound influence that language has on shaping our minds from the very beginning of life.