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Newborn's brain activity signals the origin of word memories

Abstract : Recent research has shown that specific areas of the human brain are activated by speech from the time of birth. However, it is currently unknown whether newborns' brains also encode and remember the sounds of words when processing speech. The present study investigates the type of information that newborns retain when they hear words and the brain structures that support word-sound recognition. Forty-four healthy newborns were tested with the functional near-infrared spectroscopy method to establish their ability to memorize the sound of a word and distinguish it from a phonetically similar one, 2 min after encoding. Right frontal regions-comparable to those activated in adults during retrieval of verbal material-showed a characteristic neural signature of recognition when newborns listened to a test word that had the same vowel of a previously heard word. In contrast, a characteristic novelty response was found when a test word had different vowels than the familiar word, despite having the same consonants. These results indicate that the information carried by vowels is better recognized by newborns than the information carried by consonants. Moreover, these data suggest that right frontal areas may support the recognition of speech sequences from the very first stages of language acquisition.
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Submitted on : Friday, January 16, 2015 - 10:23:13 AM
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Silvia Benavides-Varela, Jean-Remy Hochmann, Francesco Macagno, Marina Nespor, Jacques Mehler. Newborn's brain activity signals the origin of word memories . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , National Academy of Sciences, 2012, 109, pp.Issue : 44 Pages : 17908-17913. ⟨10.1073/pnas.1205413109⟩. ⟨hal-01104098⟩



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