Teenagers stop listening to their mothers at age 13

Neurobiological changes taking place in adolescent brains tune into the sound of unfamiliar voices more, a study has found

Kate Ng
Friday 29 April 2022 10:52
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Children begin to tune out the sound of their mother’s voices around the age of 13, a new study has suggested.

Researchers found that the maturing brains of teenagers do not register their mother’s voice the way they did during their pre-teenage years.

The study, from the Stanford School of Medicine, looked at the brain activity of teenagers aged between 13 and 16.5 years by using functional MRI brain scans.

It identified areas in the brain that showed greater activity in response to unfamiliar voices than their mother’s voice, which indicates that teenagers become more receptive to new voices as they get older.

Dr Daniel Abrams, the study’s lead author, said: “Just as an infant know how to tune into her mother’s voice, an adolescent knows how to tune into novel voices.

“As a teen, you don’t know you’re doing this. You’re just being you: you’ve got your friends and new companions and you want to spend time with them.

“Your mind is increasingly sensitive to and attracted to these unfamiliar voices,” he added.

However, this doesn’t mean that teenagers forget what their mothers sound like altogether.

The study found that, when participants listened to their both their mother and a random woman saying a set of words, they were able to correctly identify their mother’s voice more than 97 per cent of the time.

Researchers compared the findings to a previous study conducted on the brains of children aged 12 and under.

The younger children’s brains exhibited an “explosion of unique responses” that were triggered by hearing their mother’s voice, but many areas were not triggered by unfamiliar voices.

In teenage brains, however, the sound of unfamiliar voices resulted in greater activity than their mother’s voice in the reward centres of the brain, as well as in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a region involved in assigning value to social information.

“The switch towards unfamiliar voices happened in these brain centres between 13 and 14 years of age, and there was no difference between boys and girls,” the study authors wrote.

Dr Abrams added: “Our findings demonstrate that this proves is rooted in neurobiological changes.

“When teens appear to be rebelling by not listening to their parents, it is because they are wired to pay more attention to voices outside their home.”

The team of scientists hopes that the study will also help discover what happens in the brains of autistic teenagers and those with other conditions that affect how they tune into voices.

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