Lower maternal education linked to poor neural processing of sound in teens

Washington: A new study has linked poor processing of auditory information in the adolescent brain to a lower maternal educational background.

The research conducted at Northwestern University took a previous finding, which said mother's educational background is associated to her children's literacy and cognitive abilities in a neuroscientific direction.

"These adolescents had noisier neural activity than their classmates, even when no sound was presented," Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences at Northwestern and corresponding author of the study, said.

In addition, the neural response to speech for the adolescents from a lower maternal educational background was erratic over repeated stimulation, with lower fidelity to the incoming sound.

It was found that not only did the adolescents from a lower maternal educational background have neural responses to speech sounds that were nosier, more variable and represented the input signal weakly, but their performances on tests of reading and working memory also were poorer.

According to the study, "Neural models indicate that when the input to a neuron is noisier, the firing rate becomes more variable, ultimately limiting the amount of sensory information that can be transmitted," the researcher said.

For the new study, brain activity of Chicago Public School adolescents, almost all ninth-graders, was assessed both in response to and in the absence of auditory input. The nervous system's responses to speech sounds were observed through passive electrophysiological recordings, with students grouped according to the highest educational level achieved by their mothers.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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