Newborn babies have an instinctual need to hear their mother's voice...and nobody else's. For the first time ever, electrodes were placed on babies hours after their birth to probe the connection between the mother's voice and their newborn brains.
The electrodes monitored which parts of the infants' brains were activated when they came into contact with certain voices. While any woman's voice could fire up the voice recognition parts of the brain, the University of Montreal researchers discovered the mother's voice was needed to activate the brain's language centers. Dr. Maryse Lassonde explains:
"We applied electrodes to the heads of 16 babies while they were sleeping, and we asked the mother to make the short 'A' vowel sound — like in the French word 'allô.' We then repeated the exercise with the female nurse who brought the baby to the lab. When the mother spoke, the scans very clearly show reactions in the left-hemisphere of the brain, and in particular the language processing and motor skills circuit. Conversely, when the stranger spoke, the right-hemisphere of the brain reacted. The right-hemisphere is associated with voice recognition."
This isn't the only apparently innate language ability that babies have. For instance, if a baby hears the "A" sound, the newborn will mouth the noise as though he or she is trying to say it, even if he or she has never seen it spoken. Researchers are still trying to figure out where these connections come from - it's possible that they really are innate in some way, but it's also very possible that babies manage to pick them up during their time in the womb.