Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Pregnancy Week Listen and Learn
19 July 2013

Listen and Learn

Babies start talking when they are about a year old, but their brains are primed to detect language long before that. Here, researchers have used fMRI scanning to compare the brain of a three month old baby (above) to an adult brain (below). The colours show the order in which different parts of the brain are active when a short sentence is heard (the sequence goes red – green – blue). The baby’s brain is not yet fully developed, but it shows roughly the same patterns of brain activity that are important in adult speech perception. Regions of the adult brain involved in speech production and grammar integration also light up in the baby’s brain, even though it can’t yet say a word, let alone a sentence. When the same sentence is repeated, brain activity increases in the baby, suggesting it can remember and recognise these sounds.

Written by Emma Stoye

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