How a mother’s voice shapes her baby’s developing brain

It is no surprise that a child prefers its mother’s voice to those of strangers.  Beginning in the womb, a fetus’s developing auditory pathways sense the sounds and vibrations of its mother.  Soon after birth, a child can identify its mother’s voice and will work to hear her voice better over unfamiliar female voices.  A 2014 study of preterm infants showed that playing a recording of the mother’s voice when babies sucked on a pacifier was enough to improve development of oral feeding skills and shorten their hospital stay.  A mother’s voice can soothe a child in stressful situations, reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone.  Scientists have even traced the power of a mother’s voice to infants’ brains: a mother’s voice activates the anterior prefrontal cortex and the left posterior temporal region more strongly than an unfamiliar voice, priming the infant for the specialized task of speech processing.

While it makes intuitive sense that a mother’s voice has special power over infants and toddlers, what happens as children grow up?  Continue reading

A Tale of Monogamy and Dopamine

In a recent hack, private information from nearly 30 million users was leaked from Ashley Madison, a “dating” website intended to facilitate extramarital affairs.  The sheer number of Ashley Madison users on this website raises some age-old questions of monogamy: is it instinctual, or even healthy?  What is it about our brains that cause some to seek monogamy and others to reject it?Continue reading

Oh Rats Theyll Regret This Knowing Neurons

Oh, Rats! They’ll Regret This.

We often find ourselves in decision-making dilemmas along the day. For instance, to reach work on time, would you rather take the shorter, faster route or the longer, scenic route? In deciding these actions, the brain promptly fits in a reward versus risk equation, but sometimes the outcome isn’t quite favorable! What if there was an accident along the shorter route, and the traffic delays you even more than the longer route would have?Continue reading

Mending a broken heart with alcohol

Getting over a breakup is not easy; rejection is even more awful.  Many people turn to alcohol to drown out their sorrow.  In an attempt to study this seemingly unreasonable human behavior, scientists found that, surprisingly, humans are not the only ones who seek consolation from alcohol.  In a recent article published in Science, Shohat-Ophir et al. revealed a case of alcohol dependence behavior in Drosophila Melanogaster, commonly known as fruit flies.  They found that when fruit flies get unlucky in love, they are more likely to go for booze and become “drunken” flies.Continue reading

The Reward Pathway Reinforces Behavior

If you think about it, most of our daily lives revolve around food: when our next meal will be, what it will be, and how yummy it will be!  Evolutionarily, these have been essential thoughts for our survival, so that when we find food, we are compelled to eat as much as we can.  Not only does this ensure that we get all our necessary nutrients, but it also keeps competitors from stealing our meals.Continue reading

Do You Crave Sweets?

My answer is YES, all the time, no exceptions!  Do you remember when Miranda from “Sex and the City” was so addicted to chocolate cake that even after she threw it away, she pulled a piece of cake out of the trashcan and ate it?  No doubt we have all had a moment when we knew we should stop but it was impossible to resist even when we are not hungry!  So, why do we indulge in sweets?  Is it because of our emotions, or is it due to chemicals in our brains?Continue reading