London: Three-month-old babies can recognise human voices and make out when your`re sad.
A UK study shows that the brain areas devoted to processing speech, develop quicker than suspected and could provide new insights into autism.
Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King`s College London started by getting a group of babies adjusted to brain scanners, reports the journal Current Biology.
The tots, aged between three and seven months, then had their brains scanned as various familiar noises were played while they slept.
The initial experiment examined whether the tots could differentiate between human and non-human noises.
This revealed that coughing, sneezing, yawning, lapping water reminiscent of bath time and the squeaking of toys, all activated a part of the brain known to process speech. But human sounds lit it up far more.
The researchers then checked whether the babies` brains reacted differently to happy, sad and neutral noises.
This time, a brain area linked to emotion, sprung to life, with crying triggering it more than laughter or neutral sounds. Researcher Evelyne Mercure said it was rare to see such specialised brain regions so early in life.
Co-researcher Anna Blasi added: "It is probably because the human voice is such an important social cue that the brain shows an early specialisation for its processing. This may represent the very first step in social interactions and language learning."