Brain remodeling: mother’s voice is processed differently in teens

brain in transition
The mother’s voice is treated differently in adolescents

Communication with teenagers is often quite one-sided for parents and not always successful. Researchers are now discovering that this is not due to the stubbornness of children.

Parents know this: they talk to their teenagers and feel like they might as well be talking to a wall. A study now shows that they are not entirely wrong. A group of researchers from Stanford University came to the conclusion from their investigations that the reaction of young people to certain voices changes during puberty. This makes the mother’s voice less valuable, they write in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Analysis of the brains of children under 12 revealed an explosive neural response to their mother’s voice, activating both reward centers and emotion processing centers in the brain. The same research team showed this in 2016. But around a child’s 13th birthday, a change happens, scientists now report.

When the study was expanded to 22 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16.5, the mother’s voice no longer had the same effect. It no longer produces the same neurological response. Instead, a teenager’s brain generally seems more sensitive to all voices, new or familiar, regardless of gender.

No conscious rejection

Neural circuits connected to auditory processing were activated, picking up important information and forming social memories. When the mother said nonsense words, the participants’ brain scans showed even less activation in the brain’s reward centers, unlike a stranger’s voice saying the same thing. The same goes for the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps determine what social information is most valuable.

The changes are so obvious that the researchers were able to guess a test person’s age based on the brain’s response to the mother’s voice. “Just as an infant knows how to adapt to the voice of its mother, an adolescent knows how to adapt to new voices”, explains psychiatrist Daniel Abrams, one of the authors of the study.

“As a teenager, you don’t know you are doing this. You are just yourself: you have your friends and new companions, and you want to spend time with them. Your mind becomes more and more sensitive and interested in these unknown voices.”

The study results suggest that the human ear focuses less on the mother and more on the voices of different people with age. “If teenagers seem to rebel by not listening to their parents, it’s because they’re predisposed to pay more attention to voices outside the home,” says neuroscientist Vinod Menon, also from the Stanford University.

These brain changes could be key components of healthy social development, allowing adolescents to better understand the perspectives and intentions of others.
It helps teens engage with the world and make social connections outside of their family. In other words, a teenager does not intentionally exclude his family, his brain matures.

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