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According to a study by Stanford University School of Medicine, a greater area of children’s brains is activated by their mother’s voice than by the voice of women they don’t know. Brain regions in children that are strongly activated by the voice of their mothers extend beyond auditory ares to include regions involved in emotion, reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant and face recognition. The study found that the strength of connections between the brain regions stimulated by the voice of the child’s mother would predict the child’s social communication abilities. “Many of our social, language and emotional processes are learned by listening to our mom’s voice,” said lead author Daniel Abrams, PhD, instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “But surprisingly little is known about how the brain organizes itself around this very important sound source. We didn’t realize that a mother’s voice would have such quick access to so many different brain systems.” Many years of research has revealed children prefer their mother’s voice. In one classic study, one year old babies sucked harder on their pacifiers once they heard their mother’s voice as opposed to the voice of other woman. However, the mechanism behind this inclination was not known. “We want to know: Is it just auditory and voice -selective areas that respond differently, or is it more broad in terms of engagement, emotional reactivity and detection of salient stimuli?”, said senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. This study tested 24 children aged between 7 to 12 with an IQ of at least 80. Children were all raised by their biological mothers and did not have any developmental disorders.  Before the brain scans the voice of each mother was recorded saying three nonsense word. Menon said these nonsense words were used to prevent the activation of a whole different set of circuitry in the brain. The voice of two mothers whose children were not included in the experiment were recorded to use as controls. The brain scans, revealed that even from very short clips, less than a second long, the children could distinguish their own mother’s voices with more than 97 percent accuracy. “The extent of the regions that were engaged was really quite surprising”,  said Menon. “We know that hearing mother’s voice can be an important source of emotional comfort to children,” said Abrams. “Here, we’re showing the biological circuitry underlying that.” Children whose brains showed a stronger degree of connection between all the different regions while hearing their mother’s voices had the strongest social communication ability. This finding shows increased brain connectivity between the regions, is a neural fingerprint for increased social communication abilities in children. Menon said this finding is an important template to examine social communication defects in children with disorders such as autism. “Voice is one of the most important social communication cues, It’s exciting to see that the echo of one’s mother’s voice lives on in so many brain systems.”
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Health
According to a new UBC study, adding natural elements to playgrounds like grass, bamboo and sand can change it into an imaginative playground for children leading to reduced depression signs. The study included 46 children between the ages of two and five and was conducted over six months in 2014 in two Vancouver daycare centers. New features such as grass, sand and water were added to the outdoor facilities of the daycares. Scientists then observed the children’s behaviour before and after the change and again two weeks following the transformation. “Both play spaces were quite plain and were really just open spaces, dotted with a play set or two,” said lead author and UBC landscape architecture professor Susan Herrington in a statemtn. “We transformed the play spaces using the seven C’s principles, which highlight the importance of concepts like character, context and change in designing great play areas.” The modified environment resulted in an increase in the children’s activity on the playgrounds. Herrington said many kids would just wander around without any particular interest or do the same activity over and over again. “After the redesign, they were much more energetic and creative, exploring their environment, touching things, inventing games and interacting with their peers a lot more.” The study also resulted in happier children with a decline in depressive behaviours. “Depressive symptoms like looking sad or not smiling much went down after the modifications. The videos showed kids much more engaged in play and engaged in positive ways with each other,” said co-researcher Mariana Brussoni, an associate professor in UBC’s school of population and public health and pediatrics. Brussoni further added, these changes made the kids less dependent on their teachers. When spending time in the new play spaces the interaction with the adults was decreased to 7% compared to 19% before the redesign. “Our study shows that you don’t even need a huge budget to add nature into a space—you can be creative with just a few inexpensive twists,” said Herrington.
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