Study shows human brain able to discriminate syllables three months prior to birth

February 26, 2013 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
(Upper) Schematic representation of the location of the optical probe on an infant’s head relatively to anatomical landmarks. (Lower) Estimated projection of the optodes on the brain of a 30 wGA preterm infant [courtesy of Petra Huppi and Jessica Dubois]. The eight emitters (red circles) are arranged on two 1.5-cm-diameter circles centered by the two detectors (black circles), creating 10 points of measure (channels) over each hemisphere (blue circles). Credit: PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212220110

(Medical Xpress)—A team of French researchers has discovered that the human brain is capable of distinguishing between different types of syllables as early as three months prior to full term birth. As they describe in their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team found via brain scans that babies born up to three months premature are capable of some language processing.

Many studies have been conducted on full term babies to try to understand the degree of mental capabilities at birth. Results from such studies have shown that babies are able to distinguish their mother's voice from others, for example, and can even recognize the elements of short stories. Still puzzling however, is whether some of what newborns are able to demonstrate is innate, or learned immediately after birth. To learn more, the researchers enlisted the assistance of several parents of and their offspring. Babies born as early as 28 weeks (full term is 37 weeks) had their brains scanned using bedside functional optical imaging, while sounds (soft voices) were played for them.

Three months prior to full term, the team notes, neurons in the brain are still migrating to what will be their final destination locations and initial connections between the upper are still forming—also neural linkages between the ears and brain are still being created. All of this indicates a brain that is still very much in flux and in the process of becoming the phenomenally complicated mass that humans are known for, which would seem to suggest that very limited if any communication skills would have developed.

Infant’s hemodynamic response in the three types of blocks. The red rectangle indicates the time window during which auditory stimuli were presented to infants. Credit: (c) PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212220110

The researchers found, however, that even at a time when the brain hasn't fully developed, the premature infants were able to tell the difference between female versus , and to distinguish between the syllables "ba" and "ga". They noted also that the same parts of the brain were used by the infants to process sounds as adults. This, the researchers conclude, shows that linguistic connections in the brain develop before birth and because of that do not need to be acquired afterwards, suggesting that at least some abilities are innate.

Explore further: Does a bigger brain make for a smarter child in babies born prematurely?

More information: Syllabic discrimination in premature human infants prior to complete formation of cortical layers, PNAS, Published online before print February 25, 2013, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212220110

The ontogeny of linguistic functions in the human brain remains elusive. Although some auditory capacities are described before term, whether and how such immature cortical circuits might process speech are unknown. Here we used functional optical imaging to evaluate the cerebral responses to syllables at the earliest age at which cortical responses to external stimuli can be recorded in humans (28- to 32-wk gestational age). At this age, the cortical organization in layers is not completed. Many neurons are still located in the subplate and in the process of migrating to their final location. Nevertheless, we observed several points of similarity with the adult linguistic network. First, whereas syllables elicited larger right than left responses, the posterior temporal region escaped this general pattern, showing faster and more sustained responses over the left than over the right hemisphere. Second, discrimination responses to a change of phoneme (ba vs. ga) and a change of human voice (male vs. female) were already present and involved inferior frontal areas, even in the youngest infants (29-wk gestational age). Third, whereas both types of changes elicited responses in the right frontal region, the left frontal region only reacted to a change of phoneme. These results demonstrate a sophisticated organization of perisylvian areas at the very onset of cortical circuitry, 3 mo before term. They emphasize the influence of innate factors on regions involved in linguistic processing and social communication in humans.

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1 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2013
Even the womb is an 'external' source for stimuli.
Modeling 'attention' here will be one of the greatest stray paths ever pursued by neuroscience and psychology.
Apart from futile warning, kudos.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2013

So these little tikes can discriminate the syllables "a-bor-tion"...
1 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2013
These type of studies need to be banned. Pro-abortionists need to keep saying to themselves that an unborn baby is not human. They need to keep claiming that an unborn baby isn't human. However the more unborn babies are studied, the more evidence of their humanity pro-life people have.

If you support the killing of unborn babies, you have no science to backup your claim that they are not fully human.
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2013
Unborn babies are human. The problem is that many already born and grown up are that no more.
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2013
Many pro-abortion people acknowledge that the unborn babies are human. They just think that it's OK to kill these human babies because they might be an inconvenience. They'll even acknowledge that they are human at conception. But God help us if we ever look at killing baby whales in the womb!
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 27, 2013
But...but...but...I thought it was just a clump of cells until it's somehow miraculously transformed on the way out of the birth canal???
1 / 5 (2) Mar 01, 2013
Funny thing about Progressives and Pro-abortionists, they hate free speech, love to lie, intimidate, and bully those they disagree with.


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