Home Sciences The brain contributes to adolescents ignoring their parents

The brain contributes to adolescents ignoring their parents


A new study has found that around the age of 13, children’s brains switch from focusing on their mother’s voices to favoring new voices, as part of a biological signal that leads them to separate from their parents and expand their spheres. social.

Young children’s brains are especially attuned to the voices of their mothers, but by the time they reach adolescence they become disconnected from the neural channel that has held them together with their mothers.

This has been discovered by research from the Stanford University School of Medicine, according to which, as children grow, their brain changes because they need to expand their connections and tune in to the new coordinates of the environment in which they develop.

Directed by daniel abramsclinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, this research scanned the brains of children ages 7 to 16 as they listened to the voices of their mothers or unknown women.

In an earlier study, the Stanford team had found that in the brains of children under the age of 12, hearing mom’s voice triggered a burst of unique responses.


Published in 2016, that earlier study showed that children can identify their mothers’ voices with extremely high accuracy, and that the mother’s special sound not only signals the brain’s auditory processing areas, but also many other areas. that are not activated by unfamiliar voices, including reward centers, emotion processing regions, visual processing centers, and brain networks that decide which incoming information is most salient. It is as if the mother were present and attentive to everything that happens in the brain of her child.

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The new study built on the previous study and added data from adolescents aged 13 to 16.5 years. All the participants had an IQ of at least 80 and were being raised by their biological mothers. They had no neurological, psychiatric or learning disorders.

how was the experiment

The researchers recorded the teens’ mothers saying three nonsense words, each lasting just under a second. The use of nonsense words ensured that participants did not respond to the meaning of the words or the emotional content.

Two women who were unfamiliar with the study subjects were recorded saying the same nonsense words. Each adolescent participant listened to several repetitions of the recordings of nonsense words from her own mother and from the unknown women, presented in random order and identified when listening to her mother.

Like the younger children, the teens correctly identified their mothers’ voices more than 97% of the time.

The teens were then placed in an MRI scanner, where they listened to the voice recordings again. They also listened to brief recordings of household sounds, such as a dishwasher running, so the researchers could see how the brain responds to voices versus other non-social sounds.

More neural activation

The researchers found that among adolescents, all voices elicited greater activation in several brain regions compared with younger children: the temporal sulcus superior, an area of ​​the temporal lobe specialized in auditory processing; regions of cognitive salience processing, which filter what information is important; and the posterior cingulate cortexwhich is involved in aspects of autobiographical and social memory.

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Brain responses to voices increased with adolescent age; in fact, the relationship was so strong that the researchers were able to use the voice response information in the teens’ brain scans to predict their age.

What distinguished adolescents from younger children was that unfamiliar voices elicited more activity than Mom’s voice in the nucleus accumbens of the rewards processing system, as well as in the ventromedial prefrontal cortexa region involved in assigning value to social information.

Between the ages of 13 and 14 everything changes

The switch to unknown voices occurred in these brain centers between 13 and 14 years oldand there was no difference between boys and girls.

The research will help study what happens in the brains of adolescents with autism and other conditions that affect how they tune out voices and other social stimuli.

Younger children with autism do not have as strong a brain response to their mothers’ voices as typically developing children, the Stanford team found.

The study concludes that children’s social interactions undergo a major transformation during adolescence that is rooted in neurobiological changes.

“When adolescents seem to rebel by not listening to their parents, it is because they are programmed to pay more attention to voices outside their home,” the researchers conclude.


A neurodevelopmental shift in reward circuitry from mother’s to nonfamilial voices in adolescence. Daniel A. Abrams et al. Journal of Neuroscience 28 April 2022, JN-RM-2018-21; DOI:https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2018-21.2022

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