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Babies Recognize the Human Voice

April 12, 2019

Our mission at Zello is to empower the human voice -- in an age when it has been virtually eliminated in favor of electronic text messages and emails. The human voice is an integral part of who we are as humans. Biologically, we are programmed to communicate by talking to one another. The strongest evidence for our biological endowment with language is that even babies recognize the human voice at birth.

Audiologists tell us that a baby’s hearing is in place by the third trimester of pregnancy. At that point they can hear sounds and react to them. A Canadian study demonstrated that fetal heart rates increase in response to a mother’s voice, but decrease in response to other female voices.

There’s also ample evidence to suggest that babies in utero can form memories and learn from voices and vocal expressions. One study showed that babies exposed to a particular language’s vowels before they were born readily distinguished those sounds from unfamiliar vowel sounds from a language they hadn’t been exposed to.

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Yet another study suggested that newborns prefer the sound and feel of their mother’s native language even if someone other than the mother is speaking, which suggests that fairly fundamental programming has taken place before birth.

There is even some suggestion that babies process vocal content before they are born. Anthony DeCasper, a prominent researcher at the University of South Carolina, demonstrated that newborns can distinguish between stories that were read to them before birth and stories they’d never heard. They can also differentiate the voice that read them the stories from the voice of a stranger reading a story they heard in utero.

This research reinforces everything we at Zello believe about the power of the human voice. As we mature we learn to communicate through the written word. But we are wired to talk to each other. It is part of our biology. And we begin to master the nuance and richness of voice communication before we are even born.

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Topics: Friends & Family

Written by Alex Rausch

Alex is a content editor at Zello.

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